Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Oldy-but-Goody: Tortitas de Atun (Mexican Fishcakes)

Comfort food: Tortitas de Atun
Everyone needs to have a couple of simple, delicious, full-proof recipes in their cooking arsenal: the kind of food that comforts, fulfills, and delights every time it's put on the table.  

In my mom's house one of these such recipes was an old favorite from her own childhood: "tortitas de atun" or, translated from Spanish, "little tunafish patties" (fishcakes, for you foodies out there). We ate these things at least once every two weeks and rarely tired of the perfect combo of potato and fish that has been eaten over the years by numerous cultures in countless permutations.  But in addition to the good taste, there was something comforting about the tortita ritual because you always knew when you saw the stack of fried tortitas on the table that you'd have Mexican tabbouleh to go with them, that there would be plenty of warm corn tortillas to make them into tacos with and that the cream and salsa would sit prominently on the table to garnish them with.  To this day, my sister and I still make them for our own families, which is a testament in and of itself to the deliciousness (and simplicity) of these fishcakes.

My Sous-Chef

While I am an unabashed devotee of my mom's version of tortitas de atun, one day a week ago or so I found myself thinking and wondering the unthinkable and unwonderable: how could I improve upon this old classic and make it a true Mexican-inspired summertime dish?  

Today's recipe is the answer.  This dish is fried but it manages to stay light, especially when served immediately and with a fresh salad on the side. Enjoy.

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Tortitas de Atun: Mexican Style

Makes 14-16

Something most people probably wouldn't know about Mexican food is the way that summer squash features prominently in it.  People in Mexico love to eat "calabacitas" as they call the diminutive and lighter colored zucchini that are so commonly found at markets.  They eat the vegetable (or "fruit") and are completely obsessed with the flowers.  Happily, this type of mini zucchini is also readily available here in the UAE.  It is smaller and lighter in color (sometimes called baby or fingerling) than the variety generally found in the U.S. and I prefer it for that reason as the flavor tends to be more intense the smaller the vegetable. Zucchini is a summer crop by nature (best from May to August) which means that right now is still a good time to grab it.  

For this recipe I used a combination of zucchini with sweet corn and cilantro - all very Mexican flavors - to add a fresher feel to my mom's fishcakes.  I then served them with a quick Chipotle hot sauce that takes two seconds to make and adds the perfect bite.  The result was excellent and I think I will continue to use this version in the future as it is also a great way to get Roman to eat even more veggies.

1 can tunafish in water
~1/2 cup cilantro, chopped coarsley
~1/3 cup parsley, chopped coarsley
1 cup frozen sweet corn
4 small zucchini
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium jalapeno pepper, chopped finely
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 pinch paprika
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup flour
vegetable oil for frying

Quick Chipotle Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
salt to taste

1. Peel and cube the potatoes and then put them to boil in salted water until completely tender - about 15 minutes.  Drain and mash the potatoes until smooth.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so.

2. Meanwhile, chop the onion and zucchini into small cubes.

3. Add the chopped herbs, corn, zucchini, onion, jalapeno, mustard, paprika, salt and pepper to the mashed potatoes and mix with your hands.  Once the mixture is well-combined, drain the water from the tuna and add it to the mixture.  Mix it in gently, leaving chunks rather than allowing it to break-up completely.  Add the egg to the mixture and combine completely.

4. On a piece of wax paper or foil pour out the flour.  One by one, form little fishcake patties (about 3 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch high) in your hand, rounding the edges.  Then roll the fishcake gently in the flour, covering all sides, and shaking off excess.  Repeat this process in batches until all the mixture is used, frying some of them as you go so the flour won't soak into the fishcake.

5. Once you have finished forming and flouring the first batch of fishcakes, warm about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan.  Then add as many fishcakes as will fit uncrowded to the pan.  Allow them to cook about 1-2 minutes on each side or until nicely golden-brown on both sides.  Remove from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

6.  Salt the fishcakes while they are still hot and remove them to a serving dish.

7. Make the chipotle sauce by combining the cream and chipotles/adobo.  You can mix it completely but I prefer to leave some striations of cream and chipotle - not only does it look better, it guarantees more distinct flavors.  Add salt to taste if necessary.

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  1. Those cakes look so good! I love the combo of tunafish, zucchini, and corn here!

  2. These fish cakes just sound so delicious and I cannot wait to give them a try. What amazingly tasty treats. This one looks like something I would start making on a regular basis. Yipee!

  3. Made them, they were awesome, a new favorite here!

  4. Fabuloso!!!
    This is great!!!
    I found your recipe and its wonderful!! i made this fish cakes in the "traditional" way for years -i´m mexican- but this is very interesting!!
    I go to my kitchen and i´ll cook right away.
    Hi from Chiapas, Mexico

  5. Gracias Arit! Que bueno que te gusto mi receta - yo tambien soy Mexicana asi que solo la cambie para anadir un poco mas verdura para mi hijo. Tu como haces las tortitas?