Codfish cakes or salt cod fritters are an icon of the Portuguese cuisine. They are deep fried fish cakes which are traditionally made from a combination of mashed potatoes, shredded salt cod, eggs, onion, and parsley. Codfish cakes are appreciated equally by locals and tourists as an appetizer, but you also can find them served with rice and salad as main course.
Although widely available across the country, they appear to have originated in the region of Minho. The exact period when the pastéis were created is difficult to pinpoint. But it is believed they originated somewhere between 1760 when the first potato crops were brought to Portugal and 1841, when the first recipe of codfish cakes seems to have been published. Pastéis de Bacalhau also became popular in former Portuguese colonies like Brazil and Angola where they’re also called bolinhos. Here in Portugal, you can find shops specialized in selling them, and even creative takes on the traditional treat.
Codfish Cakes with Cheese: Pastéis de Bacalhau Recheados com Queijo Serra da Estrela
In Porto, not far from São Bento station and less than 100 meters away from Clérigos Tower, you will find an 18th century building decorated with blue tiles and red flowers. The building houses Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau. A place that is specialized in serving codfish cakes filled with a Portuguese Serra da Estrela Cheese. The first shop was opened in 2015 in Lisbon at Augusta Street. Since then, they opened several shops across Lisbon, and expanded to cities like Porto, Aveiro and Cascais. Differently from the typical pastelarias, they serve much bigger pastéis that can be paired with a glass of Port, creating a perfect and creative combination of three key products in the Portuguese cuisine. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet expanded to all Portuguese cities. If you, like me, don’t have Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau within range, this recipe is for you!
About the Recipe Portuguese Salt Cod Fritters with Cheese
This is a basic recipe for codfish cakes, the only difference is the addition of cheese to the interior of the pastéis. The cheese can be skipped, but I highly recommend including it! If you don’t have access to Serra da Estrela cheese, you can try using a different cheese. In Portugal, you can buy Serra da Estrela cheese in supermarkets and local markets. It’s important to keep the cheese at room temperature for best preservation of flavour and characteristics. For this recipe, I used pieces of salt cod, that can be purchased in a supermarket. It consists of salt cod offcuts and less noble parts, and it is the best option for recipes like this – as we want to shred it into small pieces anyway!
Another important detail is the temperature of the oil that you fry your pastéis. The oil should be hot enough for the cake to hold its shape, if you have a food thermometer, that should be around 190°C. You can always use a little bit of the batter to test the oil temperature before frying your codfish cakes.
Ingredients (Makes around 20 pasteis)
- 600g Russet potatoes – whole potatoes similar in size
- 1 medium onion – approximately 150g
- 2 garlic cloves
- 400g salt cod – soaked for 5 hours with regular water changes.
- Serra da Estrela cheese
- Fresh parsley – to taste
- Fresh chives – to taste
- Black pepper
- Potato Starch
- Vegetable oil
- Start by putting a large pot over medium to high heat with water enough to boil the fish, bring it to a boil.
- Rinse your previously soaked cod, then add it to the boiling water. Cook it for approximately 10 minutes. Drain the fish pieces, keeping the water in the pot, set aside.
- Add the potatoes without peeling to the boiling water, cook it until fork tender. Allow them to cool before you remove the peel and mash them.
- To shred the fish, add it to two layers of clean pieces of cloth, wrap it to a bundle. Start applying pressure and pounding it until finely shredded. Remove any skin or bones you may find. Combine the mashed potatoes and shredded cod.
- Finely dice the onion, mince the garlic cloves, finely chop the herbs. Add everything to the potatoes and fish mixture. Season it with black pepper, nutmeg, and if necessary, salt. Use your hands or a spoon to stir everything until combined. If the mixture feels too wet, you can add a tablespoon or two of potato starch.
- Use 2 spoons to shape your pastéis, adding a nut size of the Serra da Estrela cheese as a filling. You can watch this You Tube video to understand how to do it.
- Carefully fry the pastéis in hot oil. You can use a spoon to place them inside the oil to avoid any splashing. Once they are golden brown, remove from the oil and place them on top of absorbent paper to dry any excessive oil. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.
What do you think of this twist on the traditional pastel de bacalhau? Let me know in the comments!