Baccala fritters, also known as frittelle di baccala, are a Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes favorite. Potatoes, salt cod, onions, garlic, parsley, and egg are combined to form little balls that are fried in oil until golden and served with lemon wedges. Similar in taste and texture to a fish cake, these are a hit with even the biggest seafood skeptics.
Baccala, also known as salt cod, is essentially cod that has been dried and salted to the point that it becomes shelf-stable.
In order to return the salt cod to its original state, it requires soaking in water for at least 24 hours, but I prefer to soak mine for 2-3 days to most effectively remove all the salt.
Because of the preparation involved, baccala is something that is usually reserved for special occasions, such as Christmas Eve’s Feast of the Seven Fishes.
I go into great detail on how to prep salt cod in my Baccala alla Napoletana recipe if you’d like additional details.
You can follow the same prep process for baccala fritters, however, the one thing I would note is that if ever there was a time to get away with doing a shorter soak, it's for these fritelle di baccala. This is because the baccala is boiled with milk before forming the balls and that process removes a bit more of the salt from the cod.
How to make baccala (salt cod) fritters
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Below is 1 pound of baccala. It comes packed in a ton of salt and that heavy salt needs to be removed before it can be cooked.
- Rinse the baccala pieces and remove the surface salt. Place the baccala in a large bowl filled with cold water and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2-3 days and change the water every 6-8 hours to thoroughly remove the salt.
- After 2-3 days, begin prepping the ingredients. Preheat oven to 200f. Peel and boil 1 pound of Yukon Gold potatoes until fork tender in a large pot of water then drain in a colander and let cool. Mince a ½ cup of Italian parsley and 1 medium onion. Also, grate 3 cloves of garlic into a paste.
- Place the baccala into a large pot or high walled pan and pour in 1 ½ cups of milk and enough water to completely cover the fish. Cook the baccala over a low simmer for 20 minutes.
- Drain the salt cod and remove any bones and skin pieces. When cool enough to handle shred the cod into small pieces. Taste test the salt cod at this point to see if any extra salt will be needed for the fritter batter.
- Prepare a deep heavy pot for frying with vegetable oil. Pour the oil at last 1 inch high and heat to 370f. Mash the cooked potatoes and mix with the cod, 2 eggs, parsley, onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper to form the batter.
- To make the salt cod balls take about 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of the batter and with oiled hands, form a ball. Oil hands between each ball to prevent sticking. It's best to roll all of the balls in advance before frying.
- Once the oil hits 370f begin frying for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides.
- Work in batches and do not crowd the pan.
- Taste test one of the fritters and if they need a bit of salt add it right when the batches come out of the oil. Place the fried fritters onto a wire rack lined baking sheet to drain. The fritters can be kept hot in the oven while frying subsequent batches, but they are best eaten immediately after frying. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!
Top tips for salt cod fritters
Here are a few tips to help you achieve the best baccala fritters possible!
The potatoes. Yukon golds are preferred here for their creamy texture. Russets will be a bit on the drier side, but you could use them.
The baccala. Be sure to rinse your baccala and soak for at least 24 hours changing the water every 6-8 hours to most effectively remove the salt.
The milk. You can use whole milk or skim milk here. If you prefer to not use milk, you can simply use all water for the boiling process.
Making ahead. Salt cod fritters, same as any fried food, are best served immediately. That being said, if you're looking to serve this for a crowd and want to have them made ahead of time, you can do that and keep them warm in the oven at 200f.
More Feast of the Seven Fishes Recipes
In addition to baccala alla Napoletana mentioned above, I’ve got a few more seafood recipes I think you’ll love. Drop me a line and let me know which is your Christmas Eve go-to!
- Zuppa di pesce - Squid, cod, shrimp, mussels, and clams are simmered in a tomato, fennel, and shallot sauce and served with a slice of toasted garlic-rubbed Italian bread.
- Fried calamari - Calamari is lightly dusted with flour, fried until golden, and served with an easy marinara for dipping.
- Calamari salad - Celery, green olives, red onion, roasted pepper with calamari in a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.
- Mussels marinara - Simple appetizer of mussels in garlicky tomato sauce.
- Linguine alle vongole - Linguine in a classic white clam sauce.
- Pan-seared swordfish - Sicilian style with olives and capers.
- Clams oreganata - Baked clams with lemon, garlic, and breadcrumbs.
- Classic shrimp scampi - Shrimp in a garlic and butter sauce.
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- 1 pound baccala soaked and rinsed with water changes - see notes below
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and boiled until fork tender
- ½ cup parsley minced
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 1 medium onion finely minced
- 2 large eggs
- salt to taste taste test cod after boiling to determine if needed
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 large lemons cut into wedges
- vegetable oil enough to fill the pan up at least 1 inch high
- Preheat oven to 200f. Boil potatoes until fork tender in a large pot of water then drain in a colander and let cool.
- Meanwhile, rinse the salt cod and place it in a large pot with the milk and enough extra water to cover. Cook at a low simmer for 20 minutes.
- Drain the cod and remove any bones and skin pieces. When cool enough to handle shred the cod into small pieces. Taste test the cod at this point to know how salty it is and if any extra salt will be needed for the fritter batter.
- Prepare a deep heavy pot for frying with vegetable oil. Pour the oil at least 1 inch high and heat to 370f.
- Mash the potatoes and mix with the cod, eggs, parsley, onion, garlic, and pepper to form the batter. To make the salt cod balls take about 1 tablespoon of the batter and with oiled hands form a ball. Oil hands between each ball to prevent sticking.
- Once the oil hits 370f begin frying the cod balls for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Work in batches and do not crowd the pan. Taste test one of fritters and if they need a bit of salt add it right when the batches come out of the oil.
- Place the fried fritters onto a wire rack lined baking sheet to drain. The fritters can be kept hot in the oven while frying subsequent batches. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!
- Baccala should be rinsed then soaked in cold water. To soak, place baccala into a large bowl submerged with water and covered with plastic and store in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours with water changes every 8 hours or so.
- Taste the cod after cooking in the milk. If most of the salt was successfully removed, you might need to add some salt back to the fritter batter.
- The fried fritters should be eaten right away but can be saved in the fridge for up to 3 days and reheated in the oven.