It’s said that the Portuguese have enough bacalhau (dried salted cod) recipes to create a different dish for every day of the year! Though possibly a touch farfetched, it has heaps of tasty culinary applications.
In Portugal, fresh cod is tough to come by, but bacalhau is ubiquitous! That said, it must be prepared in a certain way, unless you want your salt ration to exceed your annual quota.
One recipe I vividly remember making was Pasteis de Bacalhau or Bolinhos de Bacalhau, depending on where you’re from, which are a type of codfish croquette. My father-in-law spent the afternoon teaching me the intricacies of forming these cod and potato snacks and then frying them until they were a crisp golden brown on the outside and a soft satisfying flavorful texture on the inside. They’re delicious! But this is my first shot at making them by hand since that epic moment. They’re generally easy, but there are a few tips.
When making Pasteis de Bacalhau, place the cod into a deep bowl covered in cold water. As the salt seeps out, change the water every 4 hours for a twenty-four hour period. This not only desalinates the bacalhau, but leaves just enough salt for the fish and potato mixture.
This recipe contains potatoes, but not just any potato. I’ve found that Russets or another good mashing potato is best as they’re less likely to turn into a gluey mess. Additionally, be sure to peel the potatoes. I find it creates a softer, more uniform texture, which lends well to the final dish. Once the fish and potatoes are cooked, they can be drained and the potatoes can be set aside to cool down while the fish is deboned.
There are little and big bones in cod that must be removed. This process doesn’t take too long, but needs to be done thoroughly, by shredding the fish into small bits, which is exactly the texture you want anyway. If there is any skin, be sure to toss it as well.
Now comes the mixing, shaping and frying. When shaping, who’ve got two camps: the round and the oval lovers. Personally, I prefer the more traditional oval look that is achieved with a two spoons. With a tablespoon, scoop out a spoonful of cod and potato mixture, and then with another spoon transfer the mixture back and forth between the two. This causes the ends to be tapered and the middle to be fat and fluffy. The last real step is to drop it into a deep pan of hot oil to fry until golden on the outside.
While this isn’t the easiest of Portuguese recipes, and does take some time and effort, the crispy crunch of that outer crust to get to the salty smooth potato and cod inside is worth it. Especially if served with a tall glass of frosty Portuguese cerveja or chilled vinho verde on a hot summer’s day!