To all the lovers of Tunisia and its unique kemia (assortment of appetizers), how could we forget the fricassés? How can we feature banatage, brik, minina, harissa, or the Tunisian Italian bread without mentioning the famous little Tunisian fricassé that you can eat in two bites?
What is a Tunisian fricassé?
Fricassé, this little savory fried brioche sandwich, is from the pure Tunisian culinary tradition.
Balls of dough, traditionally of oval shape, are first fried then split in two and stuffed with potato, harissa, tuna, black olives, hard boiled egg, and slata méchouia. Sometimes capers and/or preserved lemon (citron beldi) are added.
Slata méchouia (سلاطة مشوية), is the quintessential Tunisian salad that is also popular in Algeria (hmiss or felfla), literally “grilled salad”, is a real ode to Tunisian flavors. It is an integral part of all the Tunisian meals, whether appetizers or sandwiches, much like mayonnaise for France, pol sambol in Sri Lanka, or simply soy sauce in Asia.
Composed of tomatoes and peppers that are coarsely chopped after being grilled, the salad is seasoned with salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, and olive oil. Some will add ground coriander or caraway and others will add grilled and chopped aubergine. Those who love spicy food will include hot peppers and/or season the slata méchouïa with harissa.
Oddly enough, there is no reason for Tunisians to prefer canned tuna. It’s not as if Tunisia was a landlocked country. It has about 700 miles of coastline on the Mediterranean, to catch fresh tuna.
Bluefin tuna that is caught in Tunisia is considered one of the best varieties in the world. Indeed, this difference in taste is due to the fact that the fish goes through a long process of improvement before it arrives in Tunisian waters.
From the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar, tuna comes once a year to the Mediterranean to lay eggs. Following the currents, it swims along the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and to end up on the northern side of Cape Bon in Tunisia and off Sicily.
Then, after laying eggs, the fish returns to the Atlantic Ocean, this time along the northern shores of the Mediterranean (southern Europe) to colder and less salty waters.
The quality of its flesh improves as it moves in different waters.
Between spring and early summer, during the fishing season in Tunisia, the tuna meat changes and adopts the texture of the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Its flesh, with unique characteristics, is delicious and especially its ventresca (belly) that is so popular.
The Japanese are the first global consumers of this tuna, especially for their sushi.
Bluefin tuna is widely consumed in Tunisia, mostly in canned version, where there are all kinds: vegetable oil or olive oil, solid, filets, chunks. It is mainly used to garnish salads, pizzas, bricks, pasta, or sandwiches like the famous “Tunisian sandwich” or fricassés.
What are the different types of oil
The first step is to choose the most appropriate oil: it is not a matter of choosing the preferred flavored oil, but of choosing a cooking or frying fat that is as stable as it is healthy.
To choose the most appropriate oil for frying, there are two main factors to take into account: the smoke point of the oil and the percentage of saturated and unsaturated fats it contains.
Virgin, extra virgin, refined, unrefined, first cold pressed.
The smoke point is the temperature at which the heated oil starts smoking. This is a sign that the fatty acids that compose the oil begin to deteriorate and can become toxic.
Suffice to say that at this time, it is better to avoid exceeding this point depending on the oil used. In general, oils that contain saturated or mono-unsaturated fatty acids, as well as refined oils, are fairly resistant to heat.
For soft cooking, the best are extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil, both unrefined. Their smoke point is around 320 F (160˚C), which leaves a little room to maneuver.
It is also possible to use peanut oil and oleic sunflower oil, not to be confused with traditional sunflower oil, which is less resistant to heat. Their more neutral flavor makes them a better choice over coconut and olive oils, as they do not introduce additional flavors.
For high temperature cooking, always prefer virgin olive oil or refined oils, such as sunflower, coconut, peanut … Their smoke point is above 420 F (215˚C).
When it comes to cold seasoning, there is a lot of choice with oils that bring some flavor like sunflower, linseed, rapeseed, sesame, hazelnut, walnut, camelina, and extra virgin olive oil.
What are the best tips for healthy frying
While the choice of oil is essential for “low risk” frying, there are also a number of useful precautions to further reduce the risk and which are also useful for the success of a crisp and light frying.
- The ideal temperature, in order to reduce the degradation of the oil and to obtain crisp and light fries, must be between 320 F and 350 F (160˚C and 175˚C). With a deep fryer, it will be easy to adjust and maintain the temperature, because the appliance will keep it constant, but in a pan, a kitchen thermometer is necessary to keep the heat of the oil under control.
- Never skimp on frying oil: a large amount of oil undergoes less heat change than a smaller amount of oil and will, paradoxically, introduce much less fat when frying.
- It is very important to fry small quantities at a time.
- Finally, oil can be reused, but it is recommended to filter it very carefully and keep it well covered, away from sources of light and heat. On the other hand, when the oil becomes darker and denser, it’s time to throw it away. Be careful, never mix oil that has already been used with new oil. Indeed, when in contact with already modified fats, even the fresh fats deteriorate very quickly.
What is the origin of Tunisian fricassés?
There is a popular belief that it is a Tunisian grandmother of Jewish origin, who would have invented the fricassé in the 19th century. She was to receive many guests at her table who dropped out at the last moment.
As she had fried a lot of donuts for dessert, not knowing what to do, she stuffed them with what she had on hand. These little bites were all the rage with her family and neighbors: the fricassé was born.
The French fricassée is a preparation of pieces of chicken in a white sauce. Beef, veal and lamb can also be prepared as a fricassée. Some regional varieties are based on fish, shellfish, as well as pork or wild boar.
A French fricassée is generally thickened with cream, topped with small glazed onions and lightly cooked mushrooms.
We devoured those Tunisian fricassés as appetizers with friends.
Fricassé is a delicious small savory fried brioche of Tunisian origin, that is filled with potato, harissa, tuna, black olives, hard-boiled egg and slata mechouia.
- 4 cups flour , sifted
- 2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1½ tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg , beaten
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ⅔ cup warm water (or more if necessary)
- 1 green bell pepper , grilled, peeled and seeded
- 1 red bell pepper , grilled, peeled and seeded
- 1 green hot pepper , grilled, peeled and seeded
- 3 tomatoes , peeled and seeded
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 potatoes , boiled with their skin on
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons harissa
- 8 oz. canned tuna fillet in olive oil
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- Black olives , pitted
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- In the bowl of the stand-mixer, add the flour, sugar and yeast, and mix well.
- Dig a well in the center of this mixture and pour in the egg and oil.
- Start mixing at low speed and gradually stir in water until obtaining a homogeneous, light dough that detaches from the sides of the bowl.
- Add salt, increase the speed to medium, and knead for 5 minutes.
- Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for 1h30 in a warm place, away from drafts.
- Once the dough has doubled in volume, place it on a lightly floured work surface and punch it down.
- Divide the dough into several pieces of about 1 ounce.
- Shape each piece of dough into a stick to obtain oval buns.
- Place them, with enough space between them, on a sheet lined with greased parchment paper.
- Cover them with a clean cloth and let them rise again for 20 minutes.
Heat the frying oil in a deep frying pan and fry, at medium temperature, 3 at a time (not more).
- Fry for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
- Chop the peppers, and diced tomatoes, place them with the garlic in a mortar and crush everything slightly with a pestle while avoiding to make a purée. Add salt, pepper and hot olive oil and mix well. Set aside.
- Finley dice the potatoes.
- Cut the boiled eggs into small pieces or coarsely grate them.
- Mix eggs and potatoes and add a little salt.
- Add the crumbled tuna and mix.
- Cut the fricassé in half, but on one side to give them the shape of a sandwich.
- Garnish the bottom inside with harissa and slata méchouïa.
- Add some of the potato, egg and tuna mixture.
- Garnish with one half black olive.