Scottish Salt Cod for a Tapas Lunch – Bacalao Fritters – Salt Cod Fritters with Saffron and Pimenton

Salt Cod Fritters

~ Scottish Salt Cod for a Tapas Lunch ~

Bacalao Fritters

Salt Cod Fritters with Saffron and Pimenton

Scottish Salt Cod Fritters

With the tempting taste of my Tapas lunch the other week  still dancing on my taste-buds, I was delighted to receive some lovely fish from Delish Fish the other week; and amongst my wonderful selection of wild Scottish seafood and fish selection were some packets of  fresh salt cod; now, I am a BIG lover of salt cod and when I am in France (and Spain) I buy and cook with it often………so, when I saw I had some in my fishy box, I knew exactly what I was going to make with it – Salt Cod Fritters. This is a recipe I developed several years ago now, and although I will show you the step-by-step photos of how to desalinate  the salt cod, please be aware that the salt cod I was sent by John was boned and skinned already……, ignore that messy and lengthy procedure if you buy any fresh salt cod from John at Delish Fish.  Called Bacalao in Spain and Morue in France, this delicacy was born of old fashioned preserving methods and is still as popular today as it was centuries ago, despite the advent of deep fridge freezers and fridges.

Salt Cod in its salted state before desalination

Here is part of the article that I posted several years ago, and then the recipe, followed by all of the step-by-step photos too:

Dry salt cod or Bacalao as it is known in Spain is still eaten extensively in many European Mediterranean countries, including France (where it is called Morue) and Spain. The cod, usually from Scotland, Iceland or Norway is brought to northern Spanish shores where it is salted and cured. In the past, the fish used to be air cured hanging on wooden frames called fish flakes near the sea but in modern times different methods are used.

Years ago when there was no electricity to power fridges or freezers, salt curing was the only way to preserve fish and even until recently this was still a necessity for many small poor Spanish (and French) villages. The Bacalao which resembled flat grey bats could be found hanging on lines in small village shops which were often just the front room of someone’s house. Even today Bacalao is still sold this way although it is also available in various other forms such as wrapped in plastic or vacuum packed. You can also buy as well as the whole fish, pieces of the whole fish and the ‘lomo’ which is the tender fleshy fillets.

Even today, when fresh fish is plentiful Bacalao is still as popular as it was generations ago whether in small Spanish (French) villages or “up market” modern restaurants. Perhaps the popularity of Bacalao has remained because of its unique and intense flavour or maybe it’s because of the vast array of exciting dishes which can be prepared using it, I know I love cooking with it.

The trick when choosing a quality piece of Bacalao is to go for the whole pice which has the skin and bones or get a cut from the whole fish as it has the most intense flavour and best texture. A good piece of Bacalao will be slightly grey white in colour, never yellow and although it is dried it should not be stiff but slightly pliable. However, my salt cod from Delish Fish was already filleted, skinned and boned for fabulous ease of preparation and cooking. 

In order to get the best out of salt cod it must be prepared properly and that means first cleaning it in running water and then placing it into a dish and covering it with water. The Bacalao must be kept covered and left in a cold place to soak for between 24 and 48 hours with water changes at least three times a day. To test the degree of saltiness, taste a little piece after about 24 hours and leave to soak a little longer if necessary. Remember though never salt any dish made with Bacalao until you taste it at the end of cooking.

Bacalao goes exceptionally well with a variety of ingredients but especially tomatoes, onions, saffron, pimenton, garlic, olives, fresh peppers and dried red peppers. It is extremely versatile and can be used to make many different tapas dishes as well as main meals and soups and stews. Below are some of my favourite Bacalao dishes:

Bacalao al ajo arriero – A recipe which remains unchanged from times when mules were used in Spain to carry seafood from the coasts. Prepared with lots of garlic and tomatoes, this dish was served up in the ancient equivalent of truck stops.
Biscay style Bacalao – A lovely filling spicy dish with a beautiful deep red sauce of dried peppers traditionally cooked in large earthenware dishes over open fires.
Bacalao al pil-pil – Similar to the tapas bar favourite gambas al pil-pil. This chilli garlic cod dish is served still sizzling in the cazuela with lots of fresh bread.
Salt cod fritters – A truly delightful dish reminiscent of days gone by but extremely popular as a modern day tapas dish.

I shall now be demonstrating how to desalinate your salt cod and then make delicious Tapas SALT COD FRITTERS:

















Bacalao Fritters – Salt Cod Fritters with Saffron & Pimenton

Serves 4
Prep time 2 hours
Cook time 35 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 35 minutes
Allergy Egg, Fish, Milk, Wheat
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Side Dish, Snack, Starter
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Barbecue, Birthday Party, Casual Party
Region Spanish
By author Karen S Burns-Booth
Delightful little saffron infused salt cod fritters, served with garlic mayonnaise for a wonderful tapas snack or meal.


  • 400g fresh salt cod
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 50 mls (2 fl ozs) milk, boiled
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron strands
  • 1/4 teaspoon pimenton/smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying


You can use dried salt cod for this recipe; I used fresh salt cod from Scotland. If using the traditional air dried salt cod, you need to desalinate the cod over night for at least 24 hours and change the water regularly.


Step 1 Place the salt cod into a colander and sit it in a large bowl or a sink, this stops the fish sitting in the salt that comes off and falls to the bottom of the bowl/sink, then cover with water. Cover the fish and soak for 3 to 3 hours changing the water at least once.
Step 2 When the cod has been soaked long enough, drain and cut into large pieces. Put it into large roomy pan, cover with fresh water, add the bay leaves and the the fresh lemon cut into quarters, bring to the boil. Then lower the heat and cook slowly for about 10 minutes. Add the pimenton/paprika and saffron strands to the hot milk and allow to infuse.

Step 3 Meanwhile peel and chop the potatoes and cook in fast boiling water for about 10 minutes until just tender. When the potatoes are done, drain and place back on the heat for a minute or so to dry out and then mash well with the olive oil. Add the hot milk that has had the pimenton and saffron strands added to it, mash very well and sit to one side whilst you prepare the salt cod.

Step 4 When the cod has been simmering for about 10 minutes, remove the dish from the heat and remove the fish using a slotted spoon and place onto a large plate to cool slightly. When the cod is cool enough to handle, carefully remove any skin or bones and flake the fish gently to break it up.
Step 5 Place the flaked cod in a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice and pulp out of the 2 lemon quarters that have been cooked with the salt cod and add the chopped garlic, parsley, pepper, a little salt and the egg. Mix well. Then add the fish mixture to the potato mixture, add the flour and then mix thoroughly.

Step 6 Heat a generous amount of olive oil, or vegetable oil of your choice in a small deep frying pan until it shimmers (just before smoking). Scoop out a little of the mixture using a spoon and then drop them into the hot oil, about 5 or 6 at a time and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, each side, until golden brown & crisp. Fry them in batches and drain on kitchen towel and repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Step 7 Serve with lemon wedges, parsley sprigs, a good sprinkling of pimenton over the fritters, and alioli (garlic mayonnaise) and don't forget a chilled bottle of wine or a chilled Fino Sherry!




That’s all for now, look out for my next Salt Cod recipe later, as well as some more Tea Time Treats and home-made bread too…….have a great day and see you later, Karen.

Disclaimer: With thanks to John at Delish Fish for sending me some fresh salt cod to try.


  1. says

    I was standing at the fish counter this morning wondering if I should buy some salt cod, but we’re going to neighbours for dinner tonight. This will be on the menu in the summer, perfect in the garden with a glass (or two) of chilled white wine.
    Thanks for all the details on preparation, I’ve always been a coward with salt cod and substituted smoked haddock in my recipes. You have inspired me again:-) Jude x
    PS I’m back in UK on Sunday until mid July, hope we can meet up and that you’ll be able to come to Brittany in the summer.

  2. says

    Oh my, would I love to have a plate of those mouthwatering fritters for my lunch today. I don’t think I have ever seen salt cod in a local fish market. I have seen it prepared on cooking shows and would love to have the chance to prepare it myself. I’ll have to do some searching.

  3. says

    Karen, I had never heard of salted cod before so thank you for the explanation and details on how to use and prepare – very useful, especially for someone like me who doesn’t dabble in fish as much as I should 😉 And these fritters turned out beautiful – the perfect golden hue and marvelously crispy…

  4. says

    How delicious that looks and your photo looks sunny and warm. We had hail here today, we are having real April weather and some nice warmth coming from the page is just what I need!

  5. says

    Being Portuguese, I grew up on Salt Cod and absolutely adore it. Pasteis de Bacalhau are one of my favorite Portuguese delicacies. I can’t wait to try your version! Thank you for sharing!

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