Puerto Rican Magic: Bacalaitos – Codfish Fritters

When one thinks of warm, lazy days on a beach, the Caribbean often come to mind. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a US territory, is a small cluster of islands among a larger group of islands called the Greater Antiilles, located between the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands. The United States acquired Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War, and since then, Puerto Ricans have shared a long history with the US, gaining citizenship in 1917.

Angie Figueroa with her “Puerto Rican Magic.

My dear Puerto Rican friend, Angie Figueroa, has been a resident of New York since 2006, and absolutely loves the Rivertowns. But on warm summer days she longs for the blue skies, the beaches and the food of her native Puerto Rico. Angie was raised in Juana Diaz, a small, sleepy town along the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico observes the traditional holidays of the United States, including the 4th of July. As a child, Angie recalled, she did not really understand the meaning of the celebration, but she remembers enjoying the holiday with her family, cooking along the banks of the river, and eating their favorite traditional snack, Bacalaitos – pancake-like codfish fritters.

Bacalaitos are a special snack eaten at festivals such as Three Kings Day on January 6th, or anytime at the beach, at sports games, or even after church. As a child, one of the most exciting parts of going to church, says Angie, was eating Bacalaitos at the church’s kiosk. “You just have to eat them once,” Angie says with a playful laugh, to understand why Puerto Ricans love eating fritters on a hot day!

Bacalaitos Recipe:

Ingredients: (Available at any Latino grocery store)

  • 2 cups of all-purpose wheat flour
  • 2 cups of sofrito (Goya Sofrito)
  • One packet of Goya Sazon with Azafran (Achiote)
  • ½ to 1 lb. salted codfish fillets (without bones)
  • 2 cups of Recao (culantro) leaves, chopped
  • I pinch cumin (optional)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp parsley
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • ½ to 1 cup of water
  • 1 tsp adobo
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Canola oil to fry

Preparation:

  • Rinse codfish with cold water several times. Soak codfish in cold water overnight in the refrigerator, and if possible, change water at least 2 times.
  • In a saucepan, cover codfish with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes.
  • Cool the fish and shred it.
  • In a large bowl, make a batter by whisking together the flour, sazon, garlic powder, adobo, salt, pepper, parsley, oregano, and cumin.
  • Add water and mix thoroughly until smooth, like the consistency of pancake mix.
  • Add sofrito, cilantro, and Recao and mix well.
  • Add shredded codfish and mix well. If you want them nice and crispy, add enough water to make a slightly thinner consistency.
  • In a skillet or frying pan, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil until it reaches medium heat.
  • Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil very gently, making sure there is some codfish in every bite. The fritters should be the size of small pancakes.
  • Cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and enjoy!

Bacalaitos can be served as is, or with ‘Mayoketchup’ – a mix of equal parts of mayonnaise and ketchup. They can also be served with rice and beans and pork on the side. Yum!

Renu Rao is a longtime River Towns resident who finds cooking therapeutic for the soul and believes eating right is the pathway to wellness.

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