Cod fritters, a popular treat from Portugal
Now here’s a classic we’re excited to share.
My research indicates that these fritters likely originated in Northern Portugal, but now you’ll find them all over the country. They’re typically called bolinhos de bacalhau (cod cakes) in northern Portugal and Pasteis de bacalhau (cod fritters) in the more southern parts of the country. Liz and I grew up knowing them as pasteis.
In English you may have heard these called cod croquettes, cod fitters, salt cod fritters, salted cod fritters, fish cakes, and cod cakes.
Where can I find cod fritters?
The question could be… where can’t I find them? 😂 If you live near a Portuguese community, or Portuguese bakery, somewhere in North America…you’ll find these. I can almost guarantee you’ll find them at Portuguese family gatherings and events like weddings.
If you’re curious about these fritters and you’re not of Portuguese descent, or you aren’t in the mood to try to make them yourself, find a Portuguese bakery and give them a shot!
Liz revisited her past
Cod fritters weren’t always Liz’s cup of tea, but she finally tried them again after more than maybe 40 years and she shocked herself at how yummy they are.
You see, as a child, she struggled to eat them. She recalls them being drier and more dense when she was a child. She’d chew and chew, until all the moisture and flavour was gone from them and all she was left with was a ball of dryish cod fish in her mouth. Not pleasant. She drove her parents crazy every time. Eventually they stopped making her try them and she never ate another one until these fritters that I made.
She assumed she wouldn’t like them, but after our little guy gave them a try and said he loved them, she knew she needed to give her culinary nemesis a do-over–as an adult. I watched her with anticipation–fully expecting her to turn her nose at them (ouch). When her eyes widened and she took another bite, then another, I was thrilled. So was she. She was happy that history had not repeated itself in this new experience.
Liz doesn’t know if it was because she was eating them while they were still hot, or if these were just a better texture than the version her mom used to make, or if her tastes changed after all these years. She just knew she sincerely liked them and chose to have them as her main dish at dinner. That made me so happy.
I’m glad she connected again, in a positive way, with something from our Portuguese heritage. I’m also thrilled that our kids have experienced this traditional food and that they enjoy it too. It always makes me feel good when we can share food and traditions from our childhood and our heritage, with our kids. I see it as a gift we give our kids. I hope one day they’ll look back and see it that way too, as they pass along the gifts to their kids.
Cod fritters are easier to make than you might think
I originally thought these fritters would be difficult to make, but I was happy to be wrong. As it turns out, they’re quite easy to make, actually.
The hardest part is molding them, and even that’s not difficult at all. It takes two soup spoons and a little patience, but once you get the rhythm, you’re laughing.
In a nutshell, here’s how to make these. You boil the potatoes and then mash them. Cook the cod, then debone and shred it. You sauté the onions and garlic, and mix everything together. Shape the fritters using soup spoons and fry them. See…easy! 😃
Its important to fry the fritters at a consistent temperature. I recommend somewhere between 350 ºF and 360 ºF. If the oil is less hot, the fritters come out soggy. If the oil’s too hot, they’ll burn on the outside before they’re done cooking.
We used our Breville Smart Fryer (not a sponsored post). You know how every time you add food to your oil, the temperature drops a little? Well, the Smart Fryer quickly brings the temperature back up to where we set it, so food always fries at the perfect temperature and we get consistent results.
Are cod fritters an appetizer or a part of the main course? Well, what are you in the mood for? They can be served either way; hot or cold. Serve them as a meal with rice, potatoes, or a fresh salad. Or serve them as a tasty appetizer with a glass of wine before the main course. Heck, these are great as a snack too–maybe while watching a game on TV, or while you’re sitting on the sideline watching your kids play.
These delights are anything you want them to be. One thing’s for sure… they’re delicious, and for us, nostalgic too. Try them soon… and make your day yummy.
Portuguese salted cod fritters (pastéis de bacalhau)
- 2 lbs salted cod
- 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes skin on (about 3 large potatoes)
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium cooking onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Vegetable oil for deep frying. The amount depends on the cooking vessel you're using. We used 3 litres in our deep fryer. Use less if frying in a pot or dutch oven.
- Soak the cod for 24 hours, changing the water 3 or 4 times through-out.
- Cover whole potatoes with cold water in a medium pot.
- Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Cook potatoes uncovered until tender (between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on how large the potatoes are).
- Discard the water and set the potatoes aside to cool.
- In a medium pot, add the cod and cover with water.
- Bring the water to a boil on medium heat, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the fish starts to flake.
- Discard the water and place the fish on paper towel to remove excess water, and let cool.
- Remove the fish skin and bones.
- In a frying pan, heat 1/2 the olive oil on medium heat and sauté the onions for about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 2 more minutes being careful not to burn the garlic. Reduce the heat if necessary.
- Add the remaining olive oil.
- Flake the fish into the pan with the onions, and cook for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring to ensure the fish is completely flaked and mixed well with the onions and garlic.
- Turn off the heat, and set aside.
- Peel the potatoes and mash them completely until fluffy.
- In a large bowl, add the potatoes, sautée mixture, parsley, eggs, pepper and nutmeg.
- Use a large spoon to mix all the ingredients very well. Make sure it’s all combined.
- Taste a bit of the mixture and add salt if needed. Depending on how salty the cod was, you may or may not need a little extra salt.
- If you added salt, mix well again.
- Heat the vegetable oil to 355 ºF in a deep fryer, dutch oven or other heavy pot.
- Use two spoons to form the fritters.
- Use one spoon to scoop up a serving of the fish mixture and use the other spoon to form a small portion in the shape of a tiny (American) football. See photo.
- Carefully place a fritter in the hot oil and cook, turning it occasionally for about 3 minutes or until golden brown.
- You can fry more than one fritter at a time, but be careful not to over crowd them.
- Place the cooked fritters on a paper towel-lined serving dish to soak up the excess oil.
- Serve with a fresh salad, rice or potatoes. These fritters can be eaten hot or cold.