When I asked Sarah for a recipe, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. Sure, she’d talked for years (at her blog, According to Hoyt) about growing up in a small village in Portugal. And the favorite joke over in the comments at her blog is to watch out, or you’ll get carped.
I got carped.
This is bacalhau, the infamous dried, salted cod. And this is not a recipe to approach lightly. You’re going to have plenty of time to read, because from the form you see in the pot, which I started working with on Thursday, it took three days to meal on Saturday. So I recommend you begin with her fantasy set in Regency England, with dragons, and magic, and elves, and it’s difficult to sum up, but a whole lot of fun to read: Witchfinder. When you’ve finished that, there’s A Few Good Men (link at the bottom of the post) and don’t forget the Shifters series, which is practically set in a Diner. Sarah and I share a love of hole-in-the-wall dives with great food.
Before you start on the reading, put the dried cod into cold water (I cut the filet you see above into halves to fit it in my pot) and cover it. Put it in a cool place (I used my pantry, which isn’t heated) and let sit for about 12 hours. Go curl up with your book and a nice cup of tea.
When the time has come, drain, rinse, and put fresh cold water over the fish. Let it sit another 12 hours. Read, enjoy, and then when you drain off the second change of water, you will want to tear off a tiny pinch and taste the fish. At this point it will look almost like fresh fishmeat, but very tough. If it is still very salty, repeat the rinse, refill with water, and let it go another 12 hours.
When you have the fish to the point where you don’t taste much salt, drain, and set aside.
Sarah takes over here, with her recipe.
Bolinhos de Bacalhau
Boil enough potatoes that when smashed they’ll be about double the codfish. (It can be less than that, if you’re feeling generous with codfish. One part codfish, one part potatoes is not unheard of.) I food process the two together at this point, and add a couple of eggs, enough to make it stick together, not enough for it to be runny. Add parsley and lemon and garlic to taste. Salt if you overdipped the fish.
form into cakes by playing them between two soup spoons. (Cakes will be oblong.) Fry till golden.
Codfish cakes with flour are southern and an abomination onto nuggan.
Another thing the village did with codfish, but which I never liked, was batter made of one egg, one spoon of flour, one spoon of water. Beat together. Thrown in oiled pan. Put some codfish in middle. Fold batter like omelet. Fry till golden. Eat. (Called Isca. Poor people’s food. Which means we had it for lunch three days a week. We weren’t poor. Just ask grandma.)
I’ve always known that at some point with this challenge I was going to run into trouble. In thirty years of cooking, I’ve done a lot of meals. I’ve always been adventurous, and tried techniques sometimes just to say that I had done them. But along the way, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. And for about ten minutes, I was sure I’d run up on the rocks with the Bolinhos. I was testing the oil to see if it had reached temp in my usual way, by dropping a spoonful of batter in – not much, but a bit to see what happened. It sort of sat there, so I knew the oil was still too cool.
I walked off and left it. I was still staging for photography, which is an added challenge to the cooking, and I knew from long experience that I’d fish that bit out when the oil go hot, and discard it (we have a dog. She highly approves of this tactic), and I wasn’t going far, it’s a little kitchen. When I came back to the pan, the oil was hot enough – and the bit of batter had dissolved. Oh, Carp… I fished out the lacy, crispy network of crumbs that was now floating on my oil, and dropped another spoonful in. With the cold oil, maybe the egg hadn’t cooked fast enough for the proteins to bind it together. Nope… this one did the same thing.
Quickly, I incorporated two more eggs (bring it up to 4 in the batter) and the rest of the fish into the batter. Now, it worked. Whew!
With the bolinhos staying together, there was only one other big hurdle to clear. The First Reader doesn’t care for fish. He’s not opposed to trying things, though, so when I told him I was getting the first batch out, and draining it (note: use papertowels, my usual rack method does not pull out enough oil, and leaves them greasy) he came into the kitchen and tried a bite. His eyebrows went up. “It’s crunchy, and sort of like a potato pancake.” There was very little fishy flavor, mostly in some aftertaste. The texture is a lot like tempura batter – a little more solid than that, as the fibers of the cod give it a bit of ‘chew’ but it’s very light and crispy, surprisingly so.
We also discovered that Sarah’s recommendation of a good beer was spot-on. With the oily, salty bolinhos the German dunkel we chose was perfect. We like a nice dark beer, I rarely drink beer at all, but happily gave this one, in combination with this meal, two big thumbs up.
Will we make it again soon? Well, I still have half the batter left – I wound up making more than I’d planned when I added the extra fish and egg to make it cohesive. I’ll either cook that up today, or toss it in the freezer and see what happens with it when thawed. The First Reader admitted he wouldn’t mind eating it again, once a year or so.
Sarah also sent me her low-carb version of this recipe, which looks like it would be equally as good, and when a year is up, I may try it this way, too.
I made the codfish cakes with 1lb codfish, 2 cups (after cutting) of celery root.
Boil the celery root for an hour and the codfish for twenty minutes, food process together with four eggs. Because you need to balance the celery root, use some garlic powder, some dried onion (like three table spoons of the later and a sprinkle of the first.) and parsley (fresh, 1/4 cup)
Shape with spoons. Fry in hot oil till golden. Drain on paper towels. They look like regular ones and taste pretty close too.
I recommend serving with olives, a light salad and good beer.