Everyone knows cod is Portugal’s national food, but pinpointing an exact “national dish” is a challenge because Portuguese people have 365 ways of cooking this type of fish. Even if you aren’t a big fan of one particular style of cod, you have plenty other dishes to choose from until you find your favorite. One very homey (and easy!) recipe that everyone seems to love is Portuguese cod fritters, pataniscas (pronounced puh-tuh-neesh’-caj). If you have kids who are picky with their food, it’s a great way to introduce (read: disguise) fish into their diets.
Pataniscas are a typical, soul food dish from the Estremadura region of Portugal, which is the coastal area of the greater Lisbon, Leiria, and Setúbal districts. They’re a great way to use leftover pieces of cod to make something completely new so you don’t get bored of the same old style of cooking if you have leftovers. The recipe below makes enough pataniscas for about 5 hungry people.
If you’re unfamiliar with how to prepare cod dishes like the Portuguese do, there’s a simple, but very important, step to follow. First, you buy salted cod pieces (not a prepared cod filet from the store). You then soak the cod in a big vat of water, which removes the salt. Depending on how thick the fish is, you will need to soak it between 24 and 48 hours prior to cooking it (the thicker the cod pieces, the longer it will need to soak for). You should change the water about twice a day to de-salt the cod. If you’re using leftover cod from a previous meal, you’ll have already gone through this step.
500 g (1.1 lb) salted cod, previously de-salted in a water bath
5 or 6 large free range eggs (depending on how “eggy” you want your pataniscas – I used 6 on this occasion)
50 g (1.75 oz) of plain flour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Place cod pieces in a large pot of water and boil until cooked. Remove any bones and skin, and shred into small pieces. Set to one side. Do not throw away the water the fish was cooking in.
2. In a bowl, break the eggs and sift in the flour. Mix thoroughly so there aren’t any lumpy pieces of flour. Add the chopped onion and parsley, as well as salt and pepper.
3. Add in the shredded cod and mix everything well. At this point, if your mixture is too thick, you can add in a couple of spoonfuls of the water the cod was boiling in.
4. In a frying pan, heat vegetable oil until it’s nice and hot. Using a tablespoon, add in lumps of the egg and cod mixture and let them fry. Turn over using a slotted spoon/spatula once the edges start becoming golden. Once cooked, place onto a tray with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve immediately.
5. For a meal, serve with a leafy salad, plain rice, or a rice and kidney bean combination. Pataniscas also make a great snack or appetizer on their own. Serve with lemon slices or piri piri sauce for additional flavor, if you wish.
The pataniscas I made on this occasion were so popular, I didn’t even get a chance to photograph them with the salad and rice I made for the sides, so below is a serving suggestion that I got from the internet. Let me know if you make this for your friends and family, and what they thought of it, in the comments section below!