Bacalaitos: Light and Luscious Puerto Rican Cod Fritters

27 Dec

One of the pleasures of visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico is heading straight from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to a beach area about five minutes to the east. Piñones, a long stretch of relatively undeveloped coastline is where beach shacks under the shade of coconut palms serve up ice cold beer, whiskey con coco, and all manner of snacks or frituras, flour or banana dough shaped in seagrape leaves and dropped into hot fat in blackened cauldrons over coal fires by ladies in hair rollers. Oh my God, I am so glad to be back, you say, toes in the crystal water and tearing into a delicious and greasy and tropical hunk of something.

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

One of the iconic frituras is bacalaitos: fried cod fritters. Salt cod is well-known to Atlantic coastal areas and the Caribbean…the New England cod fisheries have for centuries supplied coastal people with an abundance of this oily fish that preserves really well (if you are interested in the history of cod, you must read Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World).

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Its popularity has led to overstressed fisheries. While they are being managed, they are not recovering well or quickly enough for me to have them as anything but an occasional treat.

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

In Puerto Rico we use salt cod in rice dishes, vinaigrette-style with local tubers, with tomatoes like the Basque people…in any number of ways. Bacalaitos are a good entry-level bacalao dish if you are afraid salt cod is too fishy for your family’s taste. Here it is not overwhelming, but more of a condiment and I daresay that salt cod lends umami (that fifth sensation of rich meaty mouth-feel) to what would be just a fish fritter…like many salted fish it is high in glutamates.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Most of the credit for this recipe is shared between Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s classic recipe in Cocina Criolla* and my dad’s adaptations and execution. It makes a perfect light dinner or appetizer…I like it with cold, dry sparkling wine, but of course a cold beer (on the lighter side) is a classic match-up. Kids and adults alike love them; we’ll be doing them up for our New Year’s guests when they arrive. Read on for recipe!

Piles of golden crispiness

Piles of golden crispiness

Bacalaitos (makes 20-25 medium fritters)

½ lb bacalao (salt cod), cut into 2” chunks and soaked for about 8 hours in cold water, changing the water several times to desalinate

Seasoning

1 tsp chopped garlic

4 black peppercorns

3-6 culantro leaves (or a heaping tsp of fresh cilantro, chopped)

Batter

1.5 Cups white flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼-1/2 tsp salt (depending on whether your cod is still very salty after soaking)

1.5 Cups water

For frying

Vegetable oil

Drain the water from the salt cod and squeeze any excess out of the fish. Tear apart the chunks of desalinated cod into feathery bits, removing any hard bits or bones and set aside in a bowl.

Use a mortar and pestle to grind the seasoning ingredients into a rough paste.

Mix the batter ingredients together in a bowl. Then add the seasoning and mix well. Add the cod and mix thoroughly. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes to allow the baking powder to activate.

Heat ¼ inch of oil in a deep frying pan or heavy-bottomed pot (to minimize splatter) on high until a drip of batter sizzles. Then lower to medium high and begin dropping batter in using a tablespoon. Two tablespoons will make a good-sized bacalaito. Flatten each disk a bit for more even frying. Fry about 3 minutes on each side, until you have a nice even golden color. Spear finished fritters on a skewer across the top of the pot to drain or just lay directly on a paper-towel-lined plate. Serve immediately.

You may also like:

Serenata: a Lenten cod favorite with tubers

Bacalao a la Vizcaribe (a variation on Bacalao a la Vizcaya)

Fresh Cod Filets with Onions and Capers

*I can’t say for sure if Puerto Rican Cookery – the English version of Cocina Criolla — has the bacalaito recipe in it, but here is the link…
Advertisements

6 Responses to “Bacalaitos: Light and Luscious Puerto Rican Cod Fritters”

  1. Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy March 13, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    Reblogged this on Hot, Cheap & Easy and commented:

    More seafood ideas for Lent….this is very simple and fun for everyone, but you need to soak the cod ahead of time!

  2. Conor Bofin December 27, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Hi Natalia, bacalaitos seem like a very nice dish indeed. I would love to try them.
    I hope you are having a good holiday season.

  3. Mad Dog December 27, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Delicious! I’m frying up stuffing with mashed potato, bacon and an egg, but I’d rather have Bacalaitos 😉

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bacalaitos Recipe (Codfish Fritters) - September 12, 2015

    […] is also a Puerto Rican dish. It is a Jamaican dish. It is a Trinidadian dish. It is a Bahamian dish. Etc. In other […]

Talk foodie to me, baby...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: