Albanian Frogs’ Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls

I have not yet started writing stories about my recent trip to Albania, but one of my surprising discoveries there was definitely the food. Albanian cuisine reflects the country’s geographical variety (from sea to mountain) and the cultural influences of its neighbors (Greece, former Yugoslavia, and Italy, just across the Straight of Otranto).

Today’s recipe is inspired by a dinner I had in Gjirokastra, at the restaurant Kujtimi. Although Gjirokastra is situated in a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino River in southern Albania, it’s only an hour away from the sea line, and the menu at Kujtimi offers grilled meats, as well as fried mussels, trout, and frogs’ legs. There are also a few local specialties, such as qifqi, rice balls with egg and herbs. Since most of these dishes are prepared very simply and served without garnish, I chose to combine several of them on a single plate, with a few personal additions.

Albanian Frog Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls

The frogs’ legs I ate in Albania were from wild frogs, and very flavorful. In the US, however, it seems that frogs’ legs sold for consumption are typically farmed, and their meat can be rather bland and watery. I’ve tried to mitigate this by adding a simple but delicious sauce made of tomato jus. The fried mussels, coated in tempura batter, are so good they could be eaten as a snack on their own. Finally, the rice balls, made from a fairly classic risotto mixed with a bit of feta and egg, are about as moist as they can be without falling apart when you fry them.

Mussel preparation
Yields about 4 servings

900 g mussels in their shells
60 g white wine
2 stems parsley
15 g peeled shallot, sliced

  • Rinse the mussels under cold water. If a shell is open and doesn’t stay shut when you pinch it, the mussel is dead and you should discard it (where I live, this happens way more often than it should).
  • Place the mussels, white wine, parsley, and shallot in a large pot. Cover with a lid, and cook over medium heat, shaking the pot regularly, until all the mussels have opened.
  • Take the mussels out of the pot, pick them out of their shells, let cool, and refrigerate.
  • Strain the cooking liquid in a chinois, let cool, and refrigerate.

Scallion and feta risotto
Yields about 4 servings

40 g scallion whites, thinly sliced
10 g garlic, thinly sliced
10 g olive oil
salt
black pepper, ground
50 g carnaroli or arborio rice
about 160 g chicken stock, warm
25 g scallion greens, thinly sliced
5 g parsley, chopped
40 g feta, crumbled
35 g beaten egg

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the scallion whites and garlic in the olive oil.
  • Season with salt and pepper, add the rice, and stir for one minute.
  • Add about half of the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low, and cook until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.
  • Add the rest of the stock, and reduce again. Taste the rice, and add some more stock if the rice isn’t fully cooked. Rectify the seasoning.
  • Add the scallion greens, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. At this point, the risotto should be very flavorful and not too liquid.
  • Mix in the parsley, feta, and egg. Refrigerate.

Tempura batter
Yields over 4 servings

75 g white flour, sifted
3 g baking powder
1.5 g salt
0.1 g black pepper, ground
110 g sparkling water
40 g mussel liquid
7 g olive oil

  • In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper.
  • Add the sparkling water, mussel liquid, and olive oil, and beat with a whisk until homogeneous. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Albanian Frog Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice BallsFried mussels and rice balls
Yields 4 servings

canola oil, for deep-frying
scallion and feta risotto
about 100 g breadcrumbs
32 mussels
tempura batter

  • In a deep-fryer (or a large pot), heat the canola oil to 175 C  / 350 F.
  • Shape the risotto into four equal balls, and roll through the breadcrumbs until completely coated. Deep-fry until golden brown, drain on paper towels, and reserve.
  • Bring the oil back to 175 C / 350 F.
  • Dip the mussels in the tempura batter just enough to coat them lightly, then deep-fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, and reserve.

Albanian Frog Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice BallsSautéed green peppers
Yields 4 servings

120 g seeded green peppers
15 g olive oil
salt

  • Cut the green peppers into a total of 16 strips.
  • Sauté in olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Season with salt, and cook until tender. Reserve.

Frogs’ legs in tomato jus
Yields 4 servings

16 frogs’ legs (about 45 g each)
salt
black pepper, ground
Wondra flour
70 g butter
100 g shallots
140 g tomato jus

  • Season the frogs’ legs with salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge each leg with a generous amount of Wondra flour.
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the frogs’ legs, and sauté for a few minutes, flipping regularly and basting with butter using a spoon. Drain on paper towels, and reserve.
  • In the same pan, sauté the shallots until soft. Add the tomato jus, and reduce for a minute. Proceed with assembly immediately.

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

frogs’ legs in tomato jus
sautéed green peppers
rice balls
fried mussels
parsley, finely chopped

  • On each plate, alternate 4 legs and 4 strips of green pepper in a star pattern. Cover the legs with tomato jus.
  • If necessary, reheat the rice balls and fried mussels by flashing them in the deep-fryer for a few seconds and draining them on paper towel. Arrange 1 rice ball and 8 mussels on each plate.
  • Sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Albanian Frog Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls

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One thought on “Albanian Frogs’ Legs, Fried Mussels, and Rice Balls

  1. Bonne année Florian

    I had the chance to be in Tirana for a couple days last summer, but I did not see any frog legs, so I have to do my own research as well 🙂 The food I had the chance to eat was good and had partly Balkan and Italian influences. So I am looking forward to your forthcoming posts on Albania.
    The little time I had brought me to the New Bazar and in consequence to a blog post: http://bit.ly/1sM4Uwj What surprised me most were the tobacco vendors, who nice piled the open tobacco …

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