Thursday, April 21, 2011


Tortillitas are pancake-like fritters of salt cod, drizzled with molasses.
I hear the solemn drumming. The village streets are slicked with candle wax after processions have passed. Holy Week is here again. That means it’s time again for bacalao—dry salt cod—the meal of choice for Viernes Santo, Good Friday.

Truthfully, cooking salt cod but once a year is not sufficient to really get a handle on it. Last year I prepared and photographed my salt cod recipe before tasting it. Later, I added tasting notes to the blog, saying that the cod needed additional soaking time before cooking. You can read Part 1 of “IF IT’S GOOD FRIDAY, IT MUST BE BACALAO  here   Actually, I did make salt cod another time and it wasn’t even Good Friday, as a delicious dip called brandada that is ever so easy. That recipe is here.

Bacalao--salt cod--at the Barcelona market.
Last year, having just come back from a few days in Barcelona, I was inspired to prepare a Catalan dish with salt cod, bacalao a la llauna. This year, for Bacalao Part 2, I am making a traditional Málaga dish that’s been popularized in tapa bars--tortillitas de bacalao con miel de caña, cod fritters with molasses.

If this sounds unusual, trust me, it’s absolutely brilliant. Flaked cod is combined in a saffron-tinged batter, fried in olive oil, then drizzled with just a little dark-sweet molasses. The sweetness complements the cod’s saltiness. Delicious.

Why molasses? In southern Spain, in the coastal areas of Málaga and Granada, sugar refineries, established at the end of the 1500s, thrived for several hundred years, spawning related industries such as rum distilleries. Cane syrup, a light molasses, entered the local culinary tradition.

Instead of molasses, you could use honey, corn syrup or even your favorite pancake syrup in this recipe. In fact, you need very little. It is the intriguing contrast of salty and sweet that makes this an outstanding dish, typical of Holy Week in Málaga.

Tasting notes: I used small, boneless pieces of salt cod for this recipe. Twenty-four hours of soaking was sufficient, leaving just enough salt to contrast with the batter. Taste the cod after soaking--if it's not salty enough, add salt to the batter.
To Prepare Bacalao
Scrape off surface salt and wash the fish in running water. Put it in a bowl and cover with water. Soak the bacalao, covered and refrigerated, 24 to 36 hours, changing the water three times. Each time you change the water, wash the fish under running water, squeeze it gently and wash out the container.

After soaking, place the pieces of bacalao on a clean towel and cover with another to soak up excess water. Remove scales and bones. The skin may be required for some dishes, as its gelatinous quality thickens the sauce. Big chunks are usually cooked whole, but scraps can be cooked, de-boned and used in fritters and fish balls.

To pre-cook bacalao, place it in enough water to cover and bring it just barely to a simmer. Hold it at a simmer for five minutes.

Saffron, garlic and parsley flavor the cod fritters.

Cod Fritters with Molasses
Tortillitas de Bacalao con Miel de Caña

Makes 30 fritters.

1/4 pound dry salt cod, soaked for 24 hours in several changes of water
pinch of crushed saffron
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg, separated
2/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
olive oil for frying
2 tablespoons molasses

Drain the salt cod and put it in a pan with water to cover and bring just to a simmer. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Drain and save the liquid. When the cod is cool enough to handle, remove any bones and skin and flake or chop the fish.

Measure 1 cup of the reserved liquid. Add the saffron to it and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.

Combine the parsley, garlic, saffron and egg yolk. Beat in the reserved saffron liquid, then the flour combined with the baking powder. Add the flaked cod. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Beat the egg white until stiff and fold into the batter.

Heat oil in a skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch. Drop batter by tablespoons, turning to brown on both sides. Add additional oil as needed so that the bottom of skillet is always covered. Drain the fritters on absorbent paper. Serve them hot or room temperature, drizzled with molasses.

Sweet molasses complements salty cod.


  1. Donna: Thanks. I'm still trying to show delicious--not easy!

  2. For the first time I noticed canned artichoke bottoms in a stateside grocery store. Convenient for stuffing and then heating? Crazy!

  3. Elsey: As much as I love fresh artichokes, I have to admit they're a lot of work. Enjoy the canned or frozen ones---