Portuguese Shrimp Rissoles
Looking for something different to serve for your next party? Stepping away from the usual appetizers like stuffed mushrooms and scallops wrapped in bacon that I often encounter at social events, I like to serve up some Portuguese flavors.
Portuguese fare, often referred to as peasant food, has started to evolve with modern influences. When I was a child, my Portuguese family did not have appetizers or starters like there are today, except for a special holiday or party. What we enjoyed were usually created out of leftover braises, bits and pieces of fish or meat or small amounts of shellfish. Coming from a poor culture taught us to save every bit of food that could be made into something else or at least incorporated into another dish, such as the savory bites we call “petiscos.” Common petiscos include Pasteis de Bacalhau, fried oval-shaped codfish cakes of the Portuguese mainland, made of a mix of potatoes, salted codfish (bacalhau), eggs, and seasoning. Croquetes de Bacalhau are Azorean salted codfish croquettes, a fried, finger-length mix of salted codfish, seasoning, and thick béchamel. Rissóis (rissoles) are savory pastries filled with meat, game, poultry or codfish. As a child, my cousins and I would watch how my aunt, with a deft hand, would whip up rissóis in no time while we eagerly waited to “test” them for her.
Rissóis are one of the most popular petiscos and a perfect appetizer for a crowd. The rissoles of Portugal, according to oral history, have French influences. But rather than encasing the savory fillings with puff pastry, we Portuguese make these little turnovers with a “massa cozida” or cooked dough, similar to choux pastry, and coat them in breading. These can be served as a snack, part of lunch, or as party fare, but they are always present at Christmas. The most popular filling is shrimp, especially on Christmas Eve — but if you are not a shrimp lover, chicken, rabbit or other meats or fish work very well. Delectable rissoles can even be made with vegetables. A whisper of cilantro (parsley can be substituted) and a hint of heat from the optional hot sauce will break down one’s will power.
In this recipe the choux pastry uses milk, as did the one I was taught, but depending on where in Portugal they are made, some cooks instead incorporate the broth of the meat, chicken or seafood used in the filling. Milk gives the pastry a softer texture, broth will make it crispier. The trick of rolling the choux pastry is to keep it warm, otherwise you will need to flour the surface and rolling pin before you roll out the dough. I have baked rissoles, spraying them first with oil, but the frying gives them much more flavor. If you are not going to fry them the same day, these rissoles can be made up ahead and frozen.
Although not traditionally served with a dipping sauce, today you might serve seafood rissoles with spicy ketchup or cocktail sauce, and meat rissoles with a creamy cucumber, dill or cilantro sauce. Make them small or large, but definitely make them. You won’t be disappointed and neither will your guests.