This would have to be close to the top of any list of classic, peerless, sensational Veracruzan dishes. You find different versions everywhere, but it belongs mostly to the central southern coasts and waterways of Sotavento.
I call it a “frittata” but that’s a rough fit at best. Tortas and tortillas are essential “round cakes,” dishes that have certain recognizable shapes no matter what’s in them. The Veracruzan torta de mariscos consists of seafood and egg combined and cooked in a round frying pan. There are three-inch versions, and others the size of large pies. There are ones with a little seafood suspended in a lot of egg, and ones that are nearly all seafood just barely bound together with an egg or two. The kind I like best is somewhere between a thick, tender pancake and a fluffy, moist flat omelet cooked golden on all sides. It is best if the egg whites are beaten separately and then combined with the yolks, but I’ve had good versions where they weren’t..
Possibly the best torta de mariscos I ever tasted was at La Viuda restaurant in the fishing town of Alvarado. The quality of the fresh seafood was exquisite, and it was used so generously that the omelet was practically falling apart with shrimp, crabmeat, and tiny baby squid. The recipe is not an exact rendition of that lovely torta, but I’ve adopted a few of its special touches, like the combination of fresh herbs and the delicate binding of fine crumbs.
Like many Veracruzan seafood dishes, this one depends on a versatile mishmash of very fine seafood cut up quite fine. People automatically make up a relleno or salpicón from the best ingredients on hand or the ones they feel like sampling at the moment. They might add tiny sweet oysters, hashed fish, or cooked diced conch or octopus. Play with the mixture as you like, but remember that it shouldn’t be watery and that you want a total of 2 – 2 1/2 pounds ( I used 2 this time but sometimes use more depending on how many people will be eating. That amount was perfect for 6 people.).
Plan ahead for flipping the torta to brown on the second side. I use a 10-inch Calphalon omelet pan. It’s easy to slide out the omelet onto a plate when the first side is done, then slide it back into the pan on the other side. You can use any brand of non-stick or well-seasoned skillet of this size but it should have rounded sides like an omelet pan.
Makes 8 servings
1 small white onion unpeeled
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 bay leaves
1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 pound shrimp (any preferred size), in the shell
1/2 pound cleaned squid (bodies only; reserve tentacles for another use), cut into 1/4-inch dice to make about 1 cup
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over to remove bits of shell and cartilage
1 medium-sized white onion, peeled
2 large or 4 – 5 medium-sized ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and seeded
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded
1/2 small bunch Italian parsley
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 small bunch of mint (leaves only)
1/2 small bunch Mediterranean oregano (leaves only)
1/4 cup finely crushed soda cracker crumbs or best-quality fine-dry bread crumbs from good French of Italian bread (no substitutes)
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon olive oil
Place the unpeeled onion and garlic, bay leaves, and about 1 teaspoon of the salt in a large saucepan or medium-sized stockpot with 2 quarts of water, Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to maintain a low rolling boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook another 2 – 3 minutes (depending on their size), skimming off any froth that rises to the top. Quickly lift out the shrimp with a mesh skimmer or slotted spoon, letting them drain well. Place in a bowl and set aside to cool. Remove the onion and garlic from the simmering stock; discard. Add the squid and cook for 3 minutes. Lift out with a skimmer, letting them drain well, and set aside. Reserve the stock for another purpose (it will make a delicious fish soup).
Peel and de-vein the cooked shrimp; chop fine and place in a large mixing bowl with the squid and crab meat. Chop the peeled onion, tomatoes, jalapeños, and fresh herbs very fine and add to the bowl of seafood. Toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Sprinkle the cracker crumbs and another 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt over the mixture and toss very thoroughly.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they form glossy, not-quite-stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate thoroughly. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten eggs into the seafood mixture.
In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized (about 10-inch) omelet pan or skillet (see above), heat the oil over medium-high heat until fragrant but not quite rippling. Reduce the heat to low. Pour or spoon the seafood mixture into the pan, smoothing it firmly with a spatula to spread it evenly without air pockets on the bottom. Cook, uncovered, for 8 minutes. Flip the cake by sliding it back into the pan. (If necessary, loosen it with a spatula, but I’ve never had a problem.) Cook for another 3 minutes, until golden, on the underside. Transfer to a platter or large plate and serve hot, cut into wedges.