Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RECIPE - Bolinho de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters)

This is one of Brazil's favorite bar snacks, and many Brazilians I know judge the quality of a bar or boteco by the care and attention with which it prepares bolinho de bacalhau. When a bolinho is well-made, light, with a crispy crust and an almost creamy inside, with plenty of bacalhau (salt cold), there's no better accompaniment in the world to icy-cold beer . When a bolinho is not well-made, when it's stodgy, soggy and greasy, with a strong fishy flavor, there's almost nothing worse.

In the title of this post, I've chosen to translate the Portuguese name for this snack as salt cod fritters. In fact a more literal translation would be little cod fish balls. A number of Internet sources use this translation, but for me it always brings back the old joke about not knowing that cod fish had balls, so Flavors of Brazil is going to stick with fritters. And besides, bolinhos de bacalhau are often not even spherically shaped - I've often seen them in the shape of small American footballs, or shaped like cigars.

Bolinhos de bacalhau are a dish that most people eat in bars or restaurants and few Brazilians make them at home. This is partly because making them is a multi-day process if you include the soaking and de-salting time the fish requires. Also, deep-frying fish in one's kitchen is an experience which leaves a lingering aroma behind - an aroma that doesn't improve with time. So, we're including the recipe here more to give a sense of what the dish is than in expectation that the blog's readers are all going to run out to prepare salt cod fritters for dinner tonight. For those few brave souls who might want to impress some Brazilian friends, or who want to offer an absolutely delicious canape to dinner guests, the recipe's for you.

In Brazil, bolinhos de bacalhau are always served with a wedge of fresh lime to squeeze over the fish and often with some sort of mayonnaise-type sauce for dipping. The proper etiquette for eating them is to use a toothpick to dip them if desired then to pop them in the mouth. Many Brazilians are noticeably uncomfortable to see anyone use their hands to help themselves to a communal appetizer. Foreigners sharing a plate of french fries with a bunch of Brazilians be warned.
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RECIPE - Bolinho de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters)

1 lb (500 gr) good quality salt cod
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
2 cups cold mashed potatoes (left-over is fine)
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
neutral vegetable oil for deep-frying
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At least 24 hours before beginning to cook, soak the cod in cold water in the refrigerator, draining the fish and changing the water at least 4 times - you can begin up to 48 hours before cooking. Remove the soaked fish from the refrigerator, rinse well in plenty of running cold water, drain well and reserve.

In a medium sauce pan add the sliced onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and 2 cups cold water. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cod and 2 more cups cold water and again bring to a simmer. Once it has reached the simmering point, remove from the heat. Let the fish cool completely in the cooking liquid. Reserve, in the refrigerator if not cooking immediately.

Remove the cod from the cooking liquid, and using forks or your fingers flake it well. The flakes should be quite small. Combine the cod and the mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl, then stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, watching the salt carefully because of the cod. When thoroughly mixed reserve at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meantime, prepare a deep fryer using fresh oil, and bring the oil to 375F (190C). Using lightly oiled hands form the cod-potato mixture into small balls about 1.5 in in diameter (3 cm). Fry them in the hot oil until nicely browned and crisp, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Drain briefly on paper towels then serve immediately, garnished with fresh lime wedges and (optionally any type of mayonnaise-based sauce, such as tartar sauce).

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