July 13, 2014

Salt Cod Fritters with Spicy Cilantro Sauce

Salt cod is cod fish that has been preserved by drying and salting. Before it can be used, salt cod must be either soaked in cold water for a few days, changing the water two to three times a day, or boiled to rehydrate and remove some of the salt.

It is most commonly used in brandade, a French gratin of mashed potatoes mixed with salt cod, garlic, and olive oil (which is smeared on bread and is heavenly); with ackee fruit in the national dish of Jamaica; in New England fish cakes; in a casserole with potatoes & onions; or battered & fried (as I did).

So, why use dried and salted fish when you could use fresh fillets? NPR compares salt cod to prosciutto, asking "Why eat prosciutto [...] when you could have fresh ham?"
This is not a gratuitous comparison. As Harold McGee writes in his encyclopedic work of food science, On Food and Cooking
The best of these [salted fish] are the piscatory equivalent of salt-cured hams. 
In both, salt buys time for transformation: it preserves them long and gently enough for enzymes of both fish and harmless salt-tolerant bacteria to break down flavorless proteins and fats into savory fragments, which then react further to create flavors of great complexity.
I made these fritters in a Girls' Night Out cooking class that I taught on Friday. Having never seen, used, or eaten salt cod before, most of the women in class were skeptical. However, this recipe was a hit!

Salt Cod Fritters

Makes about 12 fritters

½ pound dried salt cod
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
  • In a large pot, cover the cod with water. Bring the water to a boil, then continue boiling for 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, drain and check the bacalao for saltiness. (It should taste like the ocean. If it’s too salty, boil for 10 minutes longer, then drain and taste again.) Let the cod cool slightly, then transfer it to a small bowl and break it into small pieces with your fingertips. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix the flour with the baking powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Slowly add the water and mix until a smooth batter forms. Gently mix in the reserved cod. Set aside.
  • Line a large plate or sheet pan with paper towels. In a deep saucepan, wok, or deep fryer, heat 1½ inches of canola oil until it reaches 350Âș. Working in batches, drop 2 tablespoons of the batter into the oil and cook, turning a few times, until the fritters are golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per batch. 
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the prepared plate and let cool slightly. Serve with the spicy cilantro sauce.

Spicy Cilantro Sauce

1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 cups cilantro (or parsley) leaves
3 green onions (the green & white parts)

1/2 jalapeno (seeds and all!)

juice of 1 lime

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

  • Put all ingredients into a blender. Blend on medium until the sauce is smooth.

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