Salt cod is an ingredient you’ll find throughout the Mediterranean in places like France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. It’s also very popular in the Caribbean. Some sources date its appearance on the dinner table back to the 15th century. The terms saltfish and bacalao are also used to describe this preserved fish. Some joke that salt cod is a sort of pescatarian prosciutto
You may wonder why a region surrounded by water and access to fresh fish would use salt cod instead of the catch of the day, the primary reasons are flavor and texture. As the name implies, salt cod is made from fresh cod that is salted and cured for a period of time. This process preserves the fish and ultimately transforms the fish into something unique. The history behind salt cod and codfish in general is fascinating and you can find several books on the topic.
My salt cod fritters, or Mount Pelée marinades accras de morue (salt cod fritters), recipe hails from Martinique, a French Caribbean Island that is the third largest landmass in the Lesser Antilles. One of my favorite college professors was from this island and my fascination for the place has never waned. The largest town on Martinique, Fort-de-France, is a popular place to visit the island’s breath taking beauty and enjoy traditional Creole cuisine, a combination of West African, Asian, French, Native and European styles of cooking and ingredients.
My recipe is a variation of the snack found throughout the Caribbean, which is different from the salt cod fritters found in Brazil, Portugal, and Spain. Recipes from these regions add potatoes. I have a mouthwatering recipe for Brazilian saltfish and potato fritters in my book Going Coastal.
Here is a shopping tip for buying salt cod, look for the thick center-cut pieces. Tail pieces will be a bit stringy. One thing to keep in mind is that this recipe is a kitchen project, meaning it takes a few days to prepare due to the steps needed to rehydrate the fish. You can put a rush on the fish preparation via a rapid boil method which I’ll share.
1½ pounds dried salt cod, prepared
(see page 289)
¼ cup chopped scallions, green part only 1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 small habañero or Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded
2 sprigs or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves only
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
3½ cups cold water
1½ gallons vegetable oil, for frying
Prepare the salt cod
Remove the salt cod from its packaging and rinse under cold water to remove the top layer of salt. Place the cod in a bowl large enough to accommodate its size and add enough cold water to cover the fish. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and soak overnight, changing out the water every 4 to 6 hours to remove the salt.
When ready, drain and rinse the fish well. Remove any bones or skin. Place the fish in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the fish to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse the fish under cold water. Set aside until ready to use.
Quick boil method:
Rinse the fish under cold running water for 10–15 minutes. Place the fish in a pan and cover with water, bring to a low simmer, then boil for 3 minutes. Drain the fish, rinse under cold water, then add more water to the pot and repeat 3–4 times. When the fish has cooled, feel for bones and remove.
Make the fritters:
Flake the prepared salt cod and set aside.
In a food processor, combine the scallions, cilantro, garlic, onion, habañero pepper and thyme, pulsing until well combined. Add a bit of water if needed. The mix should be a bit chunky and not smooth. Pour the aromatic mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and water, whisking to make a batter. Fold in the aromatic pepper mixture and the salt cod flakes and let stand for 5–6 minutes. The batter is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Meanwhile, heat the cooking oil to 375ºF and set up a bed of paper towels to drain the fritters.
When the oil is ready, use a 1-ounce scoop or spoon and drop one fitter into the fryer—this is your test fritter, which is very important. Cook for 2–3 minutes; note that the batter will drop to the bottom then float. Use a pair of chopsticks or a slotted spoon to turn the fritter to ensure it cooks on all sides. When the fritter turns golden brown, use a slotted spoon to remove the fritter, then place on a bed of paper towels.
Taste for flavor and doneness. Make adjustments as needed and continue with the remaining batter. Serve immediately with sliced lime as desired.