Contrary to popular international belief, the traditional Portuguese dish is not the roast or charcoal chicken but rather the cod fish. The Portuguese cod (“bacalhau”) is sun dried and salted, giving it a flaky texture and intense flavour.
Before you cook it, you have to remove all the salt by keeping it in water for 2-3 days (depending how thick it is), with the skin side up and changing the water twice a day. Keeping the skin side up is very important!!! All the fat is lodged under the skin layer and if it’s facing down it will prevent the salt from coming out.
In Portugal it is said that there’s 1001 ways to cook cod fish and it’s probably true! You can cook it in a lovely stew, you can combine it with eggs and grated potatoes, you can cover it with garlic, onions and capsicum, add lots and lots of olive oil and bake it in the oven, you can barbecue it and you can even make small savory snacks, which is what this post is about.
My most popular cod fish dish here in Australia has been the cod fish cakes. We actually have two different cod fish cakes: “pasteis” – which are mashed potato based – and “pataniscas” – which are flour based.
In the last couple of years, the recipe for “pasteis” has been revamped to include a lovely dripping cheese filling and it’s absolutely amazing!!!
I usually make the flour based fish cakes – “Pataniscas de Bacalhau” – just because I think they’re easier to make. It does not involve mashing potatoes or shaping the cakes. Because I am a celiac, I also had to adapt the original recipe to my dietary needs. I use maize flour and let me tell you that they turn out better than the original! So this is what I have for you today:
Gluten Free Portuguese Cod Fish Cakes – Pataniscas de Bacalhau
3 pieces of cod fish (already desalted)
1 big onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
olive oil (about a cup)
parsley (1 bunch), chopped
2-3 cups of maize flour (or corn flour, but I prefer maize)
2 teaspoons of baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
oil to fry the fish cakes
Lay the cod fish pieces (desalted) in a tall pan, add enough cold water to cover it and bring to a boil. Remove the cod fish onto a plate and let it cool until you can easily handle it. Keep some of the water where you boiled the cod fish in and set aside.
When the cod fish is cool enough, remove all the bones and break the fish and skin into big chunks. Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until it starts to get golden and pour the fish chunks in. Stir well (but not too much, you don’t want the fish to become a paste) until all the fish is well mixed with the onion and moist from the olive oil. Let it cook until it starts to get golden and remove from heat. Add the parsley, mix and set aside.
Break the eggs into a big bowl and mix them well. Mix in half of the flour and a cup of the fish water that you set aside earlier. Stir well. Keep adding flour and water until it has a custardy consistence. You need at least equal parts of this custardy dough and the fish mixture. Add in the fish and involve well until all the fish mixture is embedded within the dough.
Put the oil into a frying pan, enough for the fish cakes to float on the oil while they fry (I usually use the whole oil bottle). Test the temperature of the oil: you want the dough to start bubbling immediately and the fish cake to float a few seconds after. Fry table spoonfuls of fish dough until they become nice and golden on both sides (you will need to turn them with a fork halfway).
Drain the oil on paper towels and enjoy! 🙂
PS – I promise the next post will not be about cooking. This will not turn into a cooking blog, although food is a very important part of my life 🙂