Christmas Eve is one of my favorite food nights of the year because my extended family celebrates the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. I have no idea how to properly celebrate this feast, but in our house, every adult is assigned one dish and we spend the entire evening hanging around the stove, cooking and grazing and laughing. The dishes change from year to year but the one constant, for at least the last decade, has been my brother-in-law’s family recipe for salt cod fritters.
These little pancakes are crunchy on the outside, revealing salty, flaky fish and sweet chewy raisins inside. The balanced textures and flavors, and of course, the fact that they are fried, make them addictive.
My brother-in-law has always been a little cagey when cooking them; he never measures anything, and moves around a little too quickly. I have no idea why I haven’t done this before now, but this year I followed right behind him with a pen, paper, and camera, recording every step.
We only make them on Christmas Eve, so this year, when the first drops of batter popped and sizzled in the hot oil, an anticipatory crowd descended on the kitchen island. My mom implored me to keep the toddlers away from the hot stove, a job she normally relishes. I scowled from a distance as this ordinarily couth woman pushed her way to the front of the crowd, and plopped down directly in front of the paper towel-lined serving platter.
I wasn’t deterred because, dear reader, I will let you in on a little secret. As with most frittered items, these get better with age and practice, so I waited patiently for the third batch, when the oil is at a steady heat, the batter has rested a few extra minutes, and the cook has found a comfortable rhythm.
The result was a perfect golden brown nugget that I obnoxiously plowed through in about three seconds flat. By this point, everyone else was getting a little full, so I was able to nab another … to share with my children, of course.
Normally I would be anxiety-ridden at this point: Should I have another, knowing that I will be expected to clean my plate six more times over the course of the evening, or can I give up now, knowing that I’ll have to wait 365 more days for the next one.
This time was different. After recording the steps, I realized that these aren’t complicated at all. In fact, I could easily whip up another batch on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day Brunch, or really for any old cocktail party, served with a glass of bubbly.
I feel I must warn you: These fritters are nubby and greasy and hot and make for slightly awkward eating. They are more Italian Street Food than Elegant Cocktail Food, so share them only with your favorite friends and family members. You know, the ones who won’t judge you for forgetting your manners. One bite, and I promise, all hard feelings will be forgotten.
- 1 ½ pounds salt cod, soaked in 3 changes of water over 24 hours
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Up to ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 ½ to 2 ¾ cups water
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Remove the salt cod from the box, place in a large bowl, and cover with two inches of cold water. Refrigerate. Change the water two to three times over the course of 24 hours.
- Remove the fish from the water and steam in a steaming basket over a few inches of boiling water for five minutes.
- Remove and pat dry. In another large bowl, flake the fish with your fingers into ½ inch pieces. Taste for salt. If the fish is still relatively salty, don’t add any additional salt to the batter. If it is fairly bland, add up to ½ teaspoon additional salt to the dry ingredients.
- In a small bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, and salt if needed. Stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients and the raisins to the fish and stir until the fish and raisins are coated with the flour mixture. Add 2 ½ cups water and stir until there is no dry flour and the batter is smooth. It should be loose like pancake batter. Add up to ½ cup additional water to obtain the desired consistency and let sit 10 minutes for the flavors to develop slightly.
- While the batter is sitting, preheat a twelve-inch cast-iron skillet, or other high-sided pan, on medium-high heat with enough vegetable oil so it reaches ½-inch up the side of the pan. Drop a small amount of batter into the pan. If it sizzles immediately, it is ready.
- Drop ¼ cup spoonfuls of batter into the pan, leaving enough room between them so they do not touch. You may need to adjust the temperature, as it will lower slightly once all of the batter is added.
- Cook three minutes, then turn. The fritters should be golden brown. If they start to turn dark brown or black, lower the heat slightly. Cook an additional two to three minutes on the other side, until the fritters are golden, then remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
- They should be just cooked through. If the fritters are still gooey inside, add a little less batter to the pancake next time, or reduce the heat slightly and increase the cooking time. Sprinkle with salt if desired, serve, and repeat until all of the batter is gone, or until everyone is full.
- These are a delicious pre-dinner snack accompanied by a glass of champagne or white wine.