Pastéis de Bacalhau (aka Bolinhos de Bacalhau, Portuguese Cod Cakes)

300 grams (about 10 1/2 oz) salt cod
400 grams (about 1 1/4 lb) Yukon Gold potatoes (4 small potatoes)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 medium onion, very, very finely minced*
1/4 bunch Italian parsley, finely minced* (about 1/4 cup)
freshly ground black pepper

36 hours before you want to make the cakes: Place the cod in a bowl of cool water. The cod should be fully covered. Cover with a lid and refrigerate. Over the next 36 hours change out the water periodically (we did first thing in the morning, lunch time, dinner time and before bedtime). When ready to make the cod cakes, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the potatoes and salt cod. Boil the cod 10 minutes then remove from the pot. Set aside. Continue cooking potatoes until fork-tender.

Meanwhile, once the cod is cool enough to handle, de-bone and de-skin it. Lightly pulse the cod in the food processor until thin shreds form. Place the cod in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 inch oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. (I used my 12-inch cast iron skillet)

Slip the potatoes out of their skins. Mash them until smooth in a small bowl. Add to the cod. Stir in remaining ingredients. Form into quenelles (small, 3-D ovals) about 2 inches long; 1 inch thick, using two (silverware) tablespoons or your hands. Drop in hot oil and fry 3-5 minutes or until golden brown, flipping as needed. Repeat as needed. Drain on paper towel-lined plates.

*you could do this in a food processor.

Yield: 15-20 fritters

My thoughts:

After a LONG trip to Portugal (delayed flights, multi-hour sits on the runway, being re-routed through England) we arrived and the first thing I ate was pastéis de bacalhau (as they are known in southern Portugal or bolinhos de bacalhau in the North), a codfish cake. This is funny if you are from Baltimore where we have coddies, which are also a sort of codfish cake. I went all the way there to eat something I could have at home.

Not quite. The Portuguese codfish cake is oval shaped (the typical quenelle shape) and quite light inside while Baltimore coddies are solid disks, coated in bread crumbs and heavy on the potato, that one eats with mustard and saltines. Both use dried salt cod which is fairly easy to find here, in Baltimore most grocery stores have it but if you can’t find it there, a good Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish store would sell it.

The Portuguese are crazy for salt cod, but I loved best in  pastéis de bacalhau/bolinhos de bacalhau. I realize it takes a bit of dedication and perhaps craziness to soak salt cod for 36 hrs, de-bone it, flake it and form it into what is essentially a snack-bar snack but it is amazing tasty and the steps, while time-consuming, are simple. We had them often as an appetizer (some restaurants serve them–hot or cold–on the bread, cheese and olive plate that is ubiquitous) but since we are home, we had them as a simple meal along with a variety of olives, bread and salad. The perfect cake has a crisp outside that gives way to a creamy, cod-flecked filling. I think this is it.

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  1. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    We had bolinhos in every cafe and bar in Brazil, and I, too, had to make them as soon as I got home! I like to dip mine in a spicy sauce, something like tartar sauce kicked up with some Sriracha!

  2. A dipping sauce sounds fun! They were never served with any but I thought something mustard-y might be fun.

  3. These sound absolutely wonderful. Just curious to know if cooking them in less oil is a possibility. The problem for me with that much oil is that I could not afford to eat them from a caloric standpoint when they are essentially deep fried.

  4. No. They do not absorb oil, if that helps.