This classic Portuguese snack of bacalhau (salt cod) and potato is served in seemingly every bar and restaurant in the Rio. When they’re done well, these crispy, fishy croquettes are sublime. Here’s my version, adapted from a hand-scrawled recipe given to me by a waiter who works in one of Rio’s oldest Portuguese restaurants.
- 250g bacalhau (salt cod)
- 1 bay leaf, 5 peppercorns
- 200g mashed potato
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- Oil for frying
- First you’ll need to soak the bacalhau in a large bowl of cold water (cover and put it in the fridge). This process draws out some of the salt and rehydrates the fish. The exact amount of soaking time required depends on the size and shape of the cut. Large, thick fillets will require longer soaking (24 hours or more); smaller trimmings will be quicker. It’s a balancing act – soak for too long and you’ll soak out all the flavour; don’t soak for long enough and it’ll be inedibly salty. If you’re not sure then have a little nibble! You can speed things up by changing the water every 6 hours.
- Once you’re happy with the bacalhau’s salt levels, put it into a saucepan, cover with cold water, add the bay leaf and peppercorns and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until tender.
- Drain, then carefully remove any bones and skin. If you have large chunks you may want to gently break them up so they mix better with the potato in the next step.
- Put the fish in a mixing bowl along with the mashed potato, a generous glug of olive oil and a good amount of parsley (you decide how much seems right). Mix everything together with a fork, gradually adding enough beaten egg to help the mixture bind (you may not need all the egg – just add enough so that you have a nice, workable consistency).
- Now form the mixture into balls. The shape and size is up to you. I usually go for a simple ball about the size of a golf ball. They don’t have to be perfect – some craggy edges will give you extra crispy crusty bits when you fry them.
- Once you get to this point you can freeze your bolinhos and cook them at a later date from frozen – it works pretty well and can even be an advantage in terms of achieving a crispy outer shell. I usually just fry them up right there and then though.
- To fry: heat whichever oil you like to use for deep frying (remembering to take all the usual precautions!). Fry the bolinhos in small batches with the oil at 180-190°C (355-375°F). Once they are golden brown and crisp on the outside they should be ready. Take them out and drain on paper towels before serving with lime wedges, extra virgin olive oil and chilli oil.
The finished bolinhos de bacalhau should have a good crispy shell surrounding delicious, tender goodness in the middle.