The Taste of Portugal
Makes 24 to 30 fish cakes
‘She went home to eat fishcakes. Every day, both at dinner and supper, she would eat fishcakes, made with salted cod.’
Camilo Castelo Branco, Noites de Lamego (Lamego Nights)
Here is a great Portuguese favourite. Although their real origin is the north, cod cakes became so popular that they were adopted as a truly ‘national speciality’. Cod cakes are ideal fare for snacks (hot or cold) and feature at every Portuguese function, from the most sophisticated to the humblest. If there is anything really engrained in the Portuguese palate, loved by everyone, this is it. Snobs may be somewhat derogatory about cod cakes, afraid of admitting that they too love this ‘poor-man’s dish’, but do not believe them. They will probably eat them all the same, when nobody is looking. Salt cod cakes are sold at delicatessens, patisseries, road-side cafés, tavernas – everywhere in Portugal. If you cannot find or do not like salt cod, they are also very nice made with fresh cod, although not as nice as the real thing.
Prepare the cod, soaking it and changing the water several times (see p.67). Boil the potatoes (in their skins, for preference, so they do not absorb water); peel them and mash well or sieve. Meantime, simmer the cod in enough boiling water to cover it, until tender (about 12 minutes). Drain, discard the skin and bones and flake it as much as you can with your fingers, then with a fork, to reduce it to threads. (The proper way of doing this is to place the flaked cod inside a clean cloth, fold it and squeeze and pound the contents of the cloth with your fists. In this way you will have mashed cod.) Mix this mass with the mashed potatoes and add the eggs, one by one, and the onion and parsley. Taste for salt but you may not need to add any, as the cod itself retains enough saltiness, in spite of being soaked and boiled. (Avoid having cod cakes which are too salty.) The mixture should be quite stiff, enabling a spoon to stand up in it. If you find it excessively dry, add one or two tablespoons of milk. Allow this to cool completely before deep frying, as you would deep fry fish or chips.With two tablespoons, shape the fishcakes like large eggs and place in the hot oil, turning them three or four times to get nicely browned all over. As they fry, lift them with a big fork or slotted spoon and place in kitchen paper, to absorb excess fat. Go on moulding and frying until you use up the mixture. Serve hot (with cod rice, or tomato rice, and/or salad), or cold with salad, or simply on their own or with olives. Delicious.
You can, of course, use a food processor for mashing the salt cod effectively.