Salt Cod Fishcakes – About as much fun as keeping goldfish.

Salt codBaccala. It seems that the entire Iberian peninsula lives on the stuff. Every Spaniard or Portuguese that I know holds it in very high regard. Graham and Lisa from the fish shop sing its praises too. It looks pretty dire. Dried out salted cod, what could be less inspiring? The truth is that I found myself looking blankly at the array of fresh fish in Georges Fish Shop, without a thought as to what I could prepare from the bounty of the sea. Lisa suggested “Have you ever tried salt cod?” This brought me back to reality. The thought of the cod did nothing for me but, I had to give it a go, if only to be one ahead of most Irish people and able to say that I had cooked the noxious stuff. 

The slab sat in my fridge for a week while I cogitated. Being salted, it could have sat there for months without any adverse effect. I finally decided on some Rough Potato and Salted Cod Fishcakes. There is a pretty short ingredients list. This contrasts with the pretty long preparation time, taken mainly by soaking and draining the salted cod. Much like changing the water for a pet goldfish.


  • Half a kilo size piece of salt cod
  • 4 or 5 decent sized potatoes
  • 2 red onions
  • 2 eggs
  • Half a litre of milk
  • A bay leaf
  • A bunch of thyme
  • A big handful of coriander (cilantro)
  • A few peppercorns
  • A little salt (not that there isn’t enough on the cod)

On the day before you want to eat, soak the cod in some cold water, using a shallow dish.

The first soaking. The first of many. It seems like a lot of trouble.

The first soaking. The first of many. It seems like a lot of trouble.

Leave the cod in the water for about 4 hours. Then change the water. Repeat this process at least four times, with one extended period while you get a night’s sleep. (Think of it like owning a goldfish only with a lifetime’s water changing compressed into 36 hours.) Take the now bloated cod out of the water. (You will end up doing that with the goldfish too BTW.) Place it in a pan and add the milk, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf.(In the case of the goldfish, tearfully flush it down the loo and then forget about it).

Excellent! This presents an opportunity for a second pouring shot.

Excellent! This presents an opportunity for a second pouring shot.

Simmer this for about 15 minutes or until the cod starts to separate from the skin and bone. Drain the cod and let it cool. Then begin the process of separating the meat from the bones and skin. This can only be done by hand. Don’t be squeamish. Get on with it.

"Pick the bones out of that." as they said in some old movie or other.

“Pick the bones out of that.” as they said in some old movie or other.

Finely chop the onions. Chop the coriander. Skin and boil the potatoes. Roughly mash them without adding anything. Tip them into a big bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. You will end up with something that resembles this picture:

And we are going to eat this mess?

And we are going to eat this mess?

Stir it until everything is bound nicely, adding some black pepper for extra flavour.

It makes a pretty rustic looking mixture. I hope the Iberians know what they are doing.

It makes a pretty rustic looking mixture. I hope the Iberians know what they are doing.

Separate the mixture into small balls and flatten to make nice fish cakes. We ended up with fifteen.

They are starting to resemble food at this stage.

They are starting to resemble food at this stage.

Lightly dust them in flour and fry on a medium heated pan until cooked. We served ours with some crunchy bread, mayo and a nice mixed salad. The verdict is that those Spanish and Portuguese are onto something here. They were the best tasting fish cakes I have ever eaten. The salt cod adds a wonderful flavour and texture that is unique.

Well worth the trouble of changing the water a few times. Delicious.

Well worth the trouble of changing the water a few times. Delicious.

I admit it is a bit of trouble soaking and changing the water. However, it is more than worth the effort. If you see salt cod at your fishmonger, buy it and try it. You will not be disappointed. (Don’t bother with another goldfish.)

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Latest comments
  • Those look lovely, and so fresh with the coriander. If you make brandade with the next batch I’ll be on a plane.

  • I have been trying to get salt cod in a few local fishmongers but having no luck. This looks like a great recipe so will need to keep hunting!

    • Please do. It was quite a revelation for me.

  • My mother used to get round the long soak-and-change-and-soak process by leaving the soaking dish in the sink, and the tap dribbling gently into it so that the water was constantly refreshed. She made a very tasty dish with salt cod, onions, garlic, tomato and white beans…

    • Sounds delicious. We are facing the reality of water charges in the near future. Any dripping tap will be an enemy.

  • They look very good. IMHO salt cod is better than fresh cod, the salting firms up the flesh. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, the vendors of Bacalao sell it dried or soaked and ready for use, so you don’t have to take it home and soak it for 36 hours.

    • Thanks for that MD. Good on them. I suppose it is a factor of supply and demand. It is hard enough to get here in the salted state.

  • I’ve never prepared salt cod. Perhaps I should… Great post, Conor.

  • I might give salt cod a shot. Plenty of steps, but an amazing outcome it would seem!

    • It’s easy to do Nick, if you can stand the water changing. Well worth it.

  • I can still remember how much salt Cod I had when I was in Portugal some summers ago…even though I really love it, I’ve never tried to prepare it…. so thank you again for this interesting recipe!

    • Happy to inspire you. This recipe is as simple as they get.

  • This is wonderful! I just read another baccala post over at the Domestic Man. I’m so doing this next week. I love Portuguese dishes. The water changing thing requires forethought, that’s all. It’s something I usually lack, but for a delicious meal, I’ll think ahead. Thank you for this lovely recipe! The thyme and milk I imagine make it so rich and savory.

    • Hi Amanda, The alarm on my smartphone played it’s part in this. No excuses once the alarm is set.

  • Oh my gosh, you made me relive the horrors of the countless goldfish we went through when my daughter was younger. As for salt cod, all I know about cod is that the ling cod out of the Pacific Northwest ocean is plenty firm without salting. I am not even sure we can get salted cod around these parts. Either way, you’ve made a dodgy-looking piece of fish into a beautiful meal that I would certainly try!

    • Thanks for that. The salted is very different. It has a density and firmness not found in any fresh fish. The flavour chunks up too.

  • The soaking doesn’t bother me so much as the boning. And not because I find it off-putting—it just seems like too much work. But I’m a lazy bum.

    • Isn’t that what the boyfriend is for, if that doesn’t sound like a rude question? Make him do the work, you take the glory for producing a really tasty, easy to prepare meal.

  • Very nice. We always use salted fish for our fishcakes at the restaurant. I effing love it!!

  • My erstwhile longterm Portuguese housekeeper unsuccessfully tried to make me like if not love baccala for years. No luck. But looking at your fish cakes leads me to a desire to try just once more 🙂 ! Kate’s dripping tap reminds me of a more ‘gross’ matter ~ my husband loved all kinds of marine life and we had huge tanks built into the house to keep such. Well, their main food were live tubifex worms – kept that way by water continuously dripping onto them in one of the laundry basins . . . .not popular with those who had to work there 🙂 !

    • It’s amazing what comes to the surface when I post about food Eha!

      • 🙂 !!!!

  • Wow haven’t had salt fish in awhile. Child hood memories have come flooding back and I must blog some of these recipes long forgotten. Thank you. The soaking does take a lot of fun out of preparation but at least you can also purchase bonless salt fosh for extra pennies 🙂 I love the way you have made it with potatoes s it looks amazing.

    • Thanks for that. I am glad I managed to spark some memories. Do post the salt cod when you prepare it.

  • I love the look of, and description of the end result. I just need to shake the entwined goldfish images out of my mind before I think about looking for salt cod to soak!

    • I wonder what goldfish cakes would be like?

      I promise, I’m joking.

      • And I’m laughing but now I’m imagining it!!

  • Salt cod is wonderful and these cakes look fabulous! But I’ve never gotten salt cod with bones???

    • Thanks Mimi. Then I must keep an eye out for the boneless variety. A lot less work.

  • Okay. I must admit that from that first photo – the one of the salted slab of fish – had me worried about where this post was going. But now I have to admit that you lead me on a very enlightening journey and where we ended up was not frightening or troublesome at all. Those fish cakes look rather tasty. So, well done! And thank you.

    • Thanks Tommy. Your comments are always a civility and a pleasure to reed.

  • Hi Conor,

    Do you have any idea why it is so difficult to find salt cod here in Ireland?
    I am doing some research on that for a speech I am preparing. I read online the Vikings used to dry cod back in the 9th century. If that is true I wonder why the tradition has disappeared…
    A few comments about your post:
    – you don’t need to be changing the water “on the clock”. We normally soak it for 24 hours and only if it is too thick we change the water once or twice.
    – once the cod is soaked you can freeze it to use later. You can even boil it straight from the freezer. Alternatively you can boil it after is soaked, remove the bones and freeze the meat for later use.
    There is a Portuguese shop in Cork that sells salt cod (Google ‘O Português’). I think they sell the cod in one piece (without being sliced) so I reckon you may need a good knife or saw to slice it but it will be well worth 🙂

    • Thanks for that Isabel, very informative indeed. I suspect that our lack of salt cod is tied to our low per capita consumption of fish. It being a little bit ‘exotic’ (pardon the word), most of us see it as too much trouble for “a bit of fish”. How wrong we can be.

      • That’s a good point Conor.

  • I have never made anything with salt cod myself. But 2 of the favorite things I’ve ever eaten were: a salt cod hash made by an old Mainer and the salt cod fritters one gets at markets in Southern France. So what am I waiting for? Those fishcakes look delicious. And a much greater reward than a goldfish.

  • Goodness Gracious! You never had salt cod before this! And now you know what you have been missing out. Newoundlanders can’t live without it, it’s in their blood and soul. Now, I can’t either. Can you find the ones without the bone there? They have them in small pieces free of bones too. If you ever visit this island, home made salt cod fritters and Grolsch on me! 🙂

  • Bacalao is part of the caribbean, central and south american and portuguese diet. France has it too in its famous brandade de morue. I have been eating it since I am a child. I tried hundreds of recipes and I love them all. Yours included but I do “accras de morue” differently.

  • Great article! I felt immediately reminded of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod. A Biography of the Fish That Chnaged The World.

  • I really liked the way you shared your recipe , it’s easy to understand ,…..
    thank you for a nice recipe , I will surely try this

  • Fantastic post. I haven’t prepared salt cod either, though I’ve eaten it many times in England. Nice that you managed to get one that wasn’t dyed orange (or am I mixing things up with smoked cod? We don’t really get either over here).

    • That is the smoke painted ‘cod’. It usually is pollock or coley painted with smoke flavoured dye and sold as smoked cod. Dire stuff when compared to real smoked fish and nothing like salted cod. A treat in store for you when you have it Laura.

  • I like fresh cod, but find salt cod an infinitely more complex and satisfying dish. Definitely worth the effort. Brandade is one of my top five favorite substances. Those cod cakes look great. What a wonderful idea. It never occurred to me to try to form the stuff into cakes and fry them. Thanks. Ken

    • I was flipping and flopping on the brandade / fish cake axis Ken. I now have the brandade to look forward to.

  • This Fish-fanatic gone crazy by looking at the seducing pictures of your fish patties! Man! Don’t they look stunning and sensuous! – Thanks a bunch for this step-by-step pictured recipe.

    • Thanks Nusrat. Great to hear from you after so long. Where have you been?

      • Got busy with life…priorities changed 🙂 Sweet to know that you noticed my disappearance 🙂 How are you doing? How is the new year treating you?

        • All good. Working too hard and not earning enough. Your creativity is missed.

          • Just compiled some spring pictures and published a small, silly post 🙂 Check it out, if you can spare a few minutes.

  • Sounds good- Being far inland, salt fish looks like a nice way to get it.

    • Thanks Seamus. Any way one can is the way to get this delicious fish.

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