Make these fritters when you find yourself with odds and ends of soaked and cooked salt cod. The pieces of cod have to be finely shredded anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you’re working with bits of fish pulled from the belly or tail, say, of the fish. On the other hand, it seems you can never make enough bacalaitos, so you may want to soak and cook some salt cod just for these. Add grated onion or minced garlic to taste to the batter if you like. You can also load these up with more salt cod for a richer flavor. Any way you make them, they will disappear as quickly as you can fry them.
Yield: Makes about 3 dozen
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons fine sea or kosher salt, or more to taste
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups water
1 cup finely shredded cooked salt cod (see Note)
1/3 cup very finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Stir the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until no lumps remain. Stir in the salt cod and cilantro. Let the batter sit while the oil heats.
2. Pour enough oil into a large, deep skillet to fill 1 inch. Heat over medium heat until the tip of the handle of a wooden spoon gives off a lively sizzle when you dip it in the oil (about 375°F). Taste the batter and add a little more salt if you think it needs it.
3. Scoop up a mounded tablespoon of the batter and slip it carefully into the oil. Fry as many fritters at one time as will bob around freely in the skillet. If you fry too many at one time, the temperature of the oil will drop, and you’ll have soggy, not crispy fritters. Fry until cooked through and deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve hot. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Salt cod (bacalao) is an ancient dish. It seems that every culture with access to cod and salt was on to it. Salt cod is whole cleaned cod or cod fillets that has been heavily salted to draw out the moisture and thereby preserve it, then air-dried. It needs lots of water and a fair amount of time to reconstitute it. After salt cod has been soaked and cooked it should taste pleasantly salty and just slightly more intense than fresh fish. It should never taste overly salty, unpleasant or funky. Look for real cod that’s been salted, not hake or pollock. Not only is the flavor more subtle, but I find that the texture of cod is much silkier. And, when possible, buy salt cod on the bone. It’s a little more effort to work with because of the bones, but the flavor is truly worth it.
Soak the bacalao in a bowl or pot large enough to hold it comfortably. Pour in cold water to cover the cod completely. Soak the cod, changing the water several times, until it is pleasantly salted. This can take anywhere from overnight to a full 24 hours, or even a little more. Tear off a little piece to taste it from time to time. When it’s soaked long enough is a very subjective thing, some people like fairly salty bacalao; others like it fairly mild. Drain it when it tastes right to you. The thickness and cure of each piece of bacalao also determines the soaking time.
To cook: put the salt cod in a pot large enough to hold it comfortably. Fill with cold water and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the water is simmering and cook until the fish flakes easily, about 20 minutes. Drain carefully.
If you forget to soak the baccalao the night before, here’s a quick fix: Put the salt cod in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 5 minutes. Drain, replace the water and repeat until the cod tastes nice to you—anywhere from 2 to 4 times, depending on your cod. This method both de-salts and cooks the cod.
1 pound of bone-in salt cod that has been cooked and flaked yields about 2 cups shredded cod.