Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Cutlets - carrying on family traditions

In a food-driven family such as ours, a lot of history and memories can be encapsulated in cherished dishes and treats. This particular dish is indeed very special, shared with me by Mr Duckie's grandmother.

For Mr Duckie, his Grandma's cooking is a tradition that he can always rely on. Grandma is a wonderful lady who has devoted her life to looking after her family. When Mr Duckie was young, it was Grandma and Grandpa that raised him and cared for him, teaching him how to write and how to do maths.

Of course, Grandma is a very capable cook as most ladies of her generation are (all those years of experience!), and she is quite famous for her food. Even now, old family friends and relatives reminisce about the food she used to make. Grandma specialises in traditional Sri Lankan food, excelling in the sorts of recipes that would have been handed down generation after generation. I wanted to take down some of her stand-out recipes as a way of carrying on these cherished family traditions.

So as I mentioned, Grandma is always trying to look out for those around her. After I said to her that I wanted to learn her cutlet recipe, Grandma tried for weeks to tee up a time with me! She even got up early one Sunday morning to make sure we could do this together! 

Cutlets are a traditional Sri Lankan snack food, made up of crunchy balls of spiced tuna. It is a light yet satisfying "short eat", and one of Mr Duckie's favourites!

Learning this recipe, I realised just how important the many years of Grandma's cooking experience was. Whilst trying to shape the balls of tuna, mine kept falling apart whereas Grandma's stayed nice and neat! I got some very firm instructions on the proper shaping technique, but I still don't think I've quite got the hang of it.

I also got some educational notes on cutlet recipes. Grandma informs me that cutlets are usually a round, golf ball shape, but she flattens her slightly to reduce the amount of oil needed for frying. Also, the balls are usually crumbed with egg as the "glue", but as my sister-in-law is allergic to egg, Grandma has substituted with a flour and water mixture. 

So, I am very honoured to share this special recipe and I hope to take down more of these time-honoured recipes to keep the family history alive!


Makes 18-20


1 large  potato
1 large onion
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
A few curry leaves, finely chopped (optional)
1 finely chopped green chilli and ground black pepper, or 1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 x 425g tin tuna
3/4 cup flour plus 1 cup water, or 1 egg
2 cloves garlic
3-4 cups dry breadcrumbs (or "rusks" as Grandma calls them!)
Canola oil, for frying

1. Chop potato into small chunks. Place into a pot of water and bring to the boil. Boil until potato is tender.

2. Meanwhile, chop onion very finely (so that you can't tell the onion pieces in the tuna mixture)

3. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds, fennel seeds and curry leaves. Fry for a few minutes to toast spices

4. Add onion to spices and fry until onion is soft and translucent (do not brown onion)
5. Drain tuna and crush it with a fork so it is broken up. Add to onion mixture and stir to combine.

6. Finely chop garlic and grind to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Add to onion mixture. Add some salt and chilli powder to taste. Take pan off heat.

7. Drain potato and roughly mash (some small chunks will remain). Add to tuna mixture and stir to combine.

8. Taste again to see if more salt or chilli is needed. Set aside and cool slightly.
9. Mix flour and water until it is a runny paste (or alternatively beat egg). Take tablespoonfuls of tuna mixture and squeeze together in your hand to form a small ball. You need to make sure to squeeze hard so that the mixture holds together firmly, so that it won't fall apart when frying. You will see some of the liquid oozing out when you squeeze. If there are any bits of onion or curry leaf sticking out, pull them off.
10. Flatten balls between palm of your hand slightly. Dunk balls into flour mixture, then into breadcrumbs. When coating with breadcrumbs, first cover the top with breadcrumbs. Then flip it over and with your fingers spin the disc around in a circle. Whilst doing this, gently squeeze the ball - the aim is to try to give a nice round shape and also help the ball to stick together
11. Put cutlets in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up. 
12. Heat about 2 cm oil in a pan. The aim is to have enough oil to cover the cutlets whilst they are frying.

13. Once the oil is hot, drop in a few cutlets at a time. Fry until breadcrumbs are golden.
14. Drain on paper towel, cool, then enjoy!


  1. I love old family recipes they are always the best and these do look great :D

  2. Mr Duckie's grandmother sounds like such a treasure! She sounds so thoughtful making sure to pass on her fantastic recipes :D