Vietnamese Deep Fried Banana Fritters with Ginger Coconut Mascarpone Sauce
Banana fritters, or chuối chiên in Vietnamese, can be found on street corners throughout Saigon. Aunt Elise, who is visiting us from Vietnam, has been teaching me many Vietnamese recipes, and today she showed me how to make these tasty treats. It's been a lot of fun learning about my culture and of course, the food, from someone who spent her whole life in Saigon.
The batter that the bananas are coated in is very similar to tempura batter. To make it a touch sweeter, we added some banana and banana extract. The fritters are usually eaten as is, but I wanted to make them a little fancier. I prepared a decadent mascarpone dip flavored with ginger, Vietnamese mint and coconut. The dip, though non-traditional, provides a nice contrast to the texture of the fritters. It's a taste of Vietnam that you won't be able to resist.
Yields: 20 fritters1/4 cup rice flour, freshly ground if possible
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch, + extra for coating
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon banana extract
1/4 teaspoon imitation rum extract
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Saigonese cinnamon powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-2/3 to 3 cups seltzer water (see tips)
8 ounces crushed ice, (1-1/2 cups)
22 Vietnamese sweet bananas (chuối xiêm), ripe but still firm, (peeled)
1 quart peanut oil (or regular vegetable oil), for deep frying, as needed
1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
For the fritter flour:
Combine all-purpose flour, corn starch, turmeric powder, baking powder, Saigonese cinnamon powder, 2 teaspoons of sugar and1/ 2 teaspoon of salt. Sift all the dry ingredients.
For the fritter batter:
In a blender, mix 2 bananas with 1 cup of water.
Divide the remaining seltzer water into 2 measuring cups: one with 1-1/3 cups and another with 1/3 cup.
Add 1-1/3 cups of seltzer water and crushed ice to the tempura flour until incorporated. Add the banana extract and rum extract. Do NOT over-mix; it's okay if the batter is still lumpy.
In another bowl, dissolve the rice flour into 1/3 cup of seltzer water.
Combine the three mixtures and stir to even them up. Once more, do NOT over-mix or you won't get an airy result! The consistency of the tempura batter should be similar to pancake batter. Add the remaining seltzer water if necessary (I didn't).
Allow to rest for about an hour.
For the bananas:
If using frozen bananas, slowly thaw them at room temperature. Place the bananas between 2 pieces of plastic wrap (or parchment paper) like a sandwich. Slightly press on the fruit using a rolling pin to about 1/2 inch.
Layer a cooling rack, previously lined with paper towelsan, on top of a baking sheet (for easy clean-up of any drained oil).
In a large Dutch oven (or any regular deep-fryer), heat the oil for about 2 minutes over high heat. There should be at least a 2-inch level of oil. Wait until the oil is slightly bubbly (not too hot).
Test the oil by dropping a teaspoon of tempura batter into the hot oil. It should float but not swell.
Dip a pressed banana into the tempura batter to coat completely. Allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. Place in the hot oil.
Fry in batches. Make sure the banana fritters don't touch each other. Lower the heat to medium. Deep fry for 2-3 minutes per batch. The fritters will start to pop and increase in volume. Use a splatter screen to prevent the oil from jumping everywhere. Flip each piece using a spider skimmer and cook for about a minute until golden on all sides. Remove each fritter, draining as much oil as possible and transfer them onto the cooling rack. Repeat until the rest of the bananas are used. (Bring the heat back up before putting in the next batch; put the bananas in the oil before you lower the heat.)
Serve immediately. You can dust a combination of powdered sugar and Saigonese cinnamon (1/2 cup of powdered sugar for 2 teaspoons of cinnamon) over the fried bananas if you like. I served them with a ginger, coconut and mint mascarpone dip that was to die for (recipe follows).
Enjoy with Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa nóng).
How to make ginger coconut mascarpone dip: Combine 8 ounces of mascarpone cheese, 1 teaspoon of lime zest, the juice of half a lime, 3 tablespoons of ginger honey, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh Vietnamese mint, a hint of red Thai chile (I used 1/8 of the chile, seeded and finely diced). Thin the mixture with 3 tablespoons of coconut milk. Mix well until smooth and creamy. Sprinkle with thinly sliced candied ginger. Garnish with mint.
I buy ginger honey at the Asian market. If you don't have any, you can replace with any flavored honey, jelly or jam you like.
Pick firm but ripe chuối xiêm bananas. If you can't find this particular variety at your market, you can substitute baby bananas or regular ripe bananas. Chuối xiêm are slightly more flavorful though, and starchier.
You can find coconut milk in Asian stores, online or even in the International Cuisine aisle of some local chain markets . I also use the AROY-D coconut cream brand. It is sold in different sized package (a small version is available).
Sifting dry ingredients helps get rid of nasty lumps of flour and aerates the mixture when liquid is added. It's very important for any of your baking when you want a moist result.
The traditional Vietnamese banana fritters are dipped in batter then sprinkled with sesame seeds. I'm not a big fan of this version. Some people also use shredded coconut in the batter.
If you like a contrast in texture, you can sprinkle crushed pistachios or hazelnuts on the bananas before dipping into the batter.
You can also flavor the batter with rice wine or rum (instead of the rum extract). If so, balance the liquid ratio for the recipe.
I used seltzer water. You can also use club soda but in that case, do not add more salt. Another option is to use beer, which was Maman's (my mom's) choice.
I only add a small amount of turmeric powder so as not to alter the flavor of the batter. It's a natural food coloring that makes the banana fritters look more vibrant.
You can buy rice flour at the store but I like to grind my own (using jasmine rice). That way I know all the nutrients are preserved. I use the Nutrimill brand mill. I got it several months ago and it's very useful to make any kind of flour. It's a great help for people with gluten allergies as well.
For optimum results when heating the frying oil, the thermometer should register 350°F to 375°F. Heat the oil over medium to high heat.
Saigonese cinnamon is available at any regular supermarket. Check out the McCormick brand.December 3, 2009.