This dish is the creation of Chef Jay McCarthy, and these are no ordinary spuds. Serve them as an appetizer, side dish, or even as a first course topped with shrimp or scallops.
- 2 pounds prickly pear cactus pads (nopales)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons Achiote Paste
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 egg white
- About ¾ cup ice water
- Peanut oil for frying
- Salsa or ketchup, for accompaniment
- With a sharp paring knife, remove the thorns and “eyes” from the cactus pads; trim the edges of the pads.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat; reduce heat, add pads, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes; drain.
- Cut the cactus pads into 3- to 4-inch strips about the size of French fries. Set aside.
- Combine the cornstarch and achiote paste in a blender or food processor; pulse until smooth. Turn into a bowl. Add the flour and baking powder; mix well.
- In another bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form. Add half of the flour mixture to the egg white and fold in. Add half the ice water, then the remaining flour mixture and enough water to make the batter have even consistency with beaten egg white. Refrigerate the batter until chilled, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Fill a heavy skillet with enough peanut oil to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 375°.
- Remove the batter from the refrigerator and, one at a time; dip the cactus strips in it. Drop the strips into the hot oil and cook until crispy and golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with salsa or ketchup.
Tips/TechniquesSo the fries don’t clump as they cook, drop them into the hot oil one by one. And don’t put too many in at one time; this lowers the heat and they won’t be as crispy. They’re done when the batter is light brown and the bubbles around each strip are almost gone. Cactus pads taste a bit like green beans crossed with okra. For these fries, use only fresh cactus pads, available at Latino markets and in many supermarkets in the Southwest, not those sold preserved in jars.