Salt Cod Fritters with Honey Aioli
- Bunyols de bacallà amb mel i all i oli
There’s something about Spanish bar food that makes me very happy. This is a good example of the kind of bites that go down very well with a clara (6 parts beer, 4 parts lemon soda like Fanta), and it’s the kind of thing that’s served in all of the great original bars in Barceloneta, where seafood is a staple on the menu and the eats are cheap.
I most recently ate bunyols (the Catalan version of our fritters) on a food tour with Barcelona Eat Local which you can read all about here. It was a tour full of surprises–surprising a local is the sign of a great tour–but none more pleasant that the mini “picnic” we had with food from the local market. Everyone always thinks of the typical budget move of grabbing cheese and bread from the local markets for a cheap lunch, but I’ve never thought of hitting up the local fishmonger for some fried delights and let me just say it was a totally brilliant move. We were treated to salt cod three ways: in croquetas, in bunyols, and a popular summer salad called esqueixada. The bunyols–a lighter, airier version of the croquetas–were my favorite, but all three made my day.
Bunyols are very popular here, because people love to fry things in olive oil (“It’s so healthy!” they say.) Indeed, how else would they manage to use the giant five liter jugs of oil they keep around the house like armageddon is on its way. Like back home, they can be made both sweet and savory. Here, I like to combine the two by drizzling my cod bunyols with honey (see note at the end of the recipe). They can be airy or more dense depending on how stiff you whip your egg whites. Like a lot of other foods (and words), the Spanish stole the bunyol from the Arab world (Thank you, Africa), but they’ve been integrated fully into the local cuisine, albeit with regional twists. The Valencians make their bunyols simply fried (think churro batter) for dipping in a cup of chocolate. They’re also a party food in the Balearic Islands, where you’ll find them made from sweet potato (or sometimes with cheese or dried figs I’ve heard) during the annual festivities (known as the festa major). My favorite kind are the bunyols from L’Empordà, the Catalonian region near the border of France, which are made with aniseed liquor and rolled in sugar. Unfortunately for my waistline, they can be found in any bakery in Barcelona.
In any case, for those of you who want to try a recipe using salt cod, this is a good place to start. The hardest (read: longest) part is desalinating the cod, which you need to do a day ahead of time so that it transforms from smelly brick of salt into the rehydrated version you can easily flake into your recipe. If you can stand the smell, buy a bunch and keep it in the house for other recipes (Croquetas, esqueixada or brandada–sort of like a mousseline–would be my recommendations). Eventually, I’ll get recipes for those up here, but in the meantime, enjoy your frying!
For the bunyols
2 scant cups (200g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (200 ml) milk
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
7 ounces (300 g) dried salt cod
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups sunflower oil
For the aioli
1 egg yolk
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup (150 ml) extra virgin olive oil
For the allioli
In a food processor, add the egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice and honey. Begin blending, then slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream (no wider than a pencil), until it’s fully emulsified. You can store in a sealed container up to a week in the refrigerator.
Prepare the cod
To work with the cod, you’ll first need to desalinate it. In a glass dish (a glass tupper is great for this to prevent spillage), place the cod and cover with water. Leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, strain the cod, removing and discarding any skin and bones. Add it to a small pot, cover it with water, and heat to the point of boiling (when the first small bubbles begin to form). Turn off the heat and allow it to sit for a minute. Strain and set aside until ready to use.
Prepare the batter
In a bowl, add the flour, salt, and yeast and blend them together.
Separate the eggs into two bowls. Add the milk to the yolks and whisk well. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, add the whites, and turn on low for 1-2 minutes until the whites become bubbly. Increase the speed to high (I set mine to 8) and mix for another 4-5 minutes, or just until the whites reach what the Spanish poetically call the punto de nieve, the snow point, or as we say, peaked. You’ll know they’re ready when you can stand a teaspoon in them, or turn the bowl upside down and they’ll stick. (Don’t over-whisk or they’ll separate.)
In a food processor, whirl the egg yolk and milk mixture with the garlic and the parsley until the garlic is well blended. Add the cod and the flour and give it three pulses or so, until the cod is broken up and the flour is just mixed with no lumps. You don’t want to over blend to else the batter will become stiff.
In a deep pot, heat the oil over low heat. Meanwhile, transfer the cod mixture to a big bowl, and carefully fold in the egg whites until just incorporated.
Fry the bunyols
Using a teaspoon (I used a small kitchen spoon for this), scoop out a spoonful or two of the batter and drop it into the oil. You can work in small batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pot. Cook them for 1-2 minutes, until they’re medium golden on the bottom. Using a spoon and fork, flip the bunyols and cook on the other side until evenly golden. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels, adjust salt to taste, and serve hot. Repeat using all of the batter.
Sometimes I just drizzle the honey directly over the fritters because makes a nice sweet counterpoint to the salty fritter, and the taste doesn’t get lost in all the garlic.
You can keep the fritters for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. To reheat them, warm them in a dry pan over medium heat, turning them at least once.