Brazil Exploration: Bolinhos de Bacalhau

Today we start a culinary adventure to Brazil! The kids and I are doing a month-long exploration, so I thought I’d do it through food as well. Oftentimes when we do our country unit studies we do it for a week or two, and at the end we always somehow feel that we didn’t do enough or we only barely scratched the surface. This time around we’ve extended it to 4 weeks, so I’ll have plenty of Brazil food posts as we move along. For starters I’ve had the kids read some non-fiction kids’ books on Brazil, and today, as it is Ash Wednesday, I served Bolinhos de Bacalhau, made from salt cod. At some point I will probably add some notes on Brazil’s history and culture, but for now I wanted to mention that I was surprised to find out about the African influence in Brazilian cuisine. I’ve known about the Portuguese influence, but never knew the African influence was so extensive. More on that later.

Bolinhos are little snacks found all over Latin America. Another dish that’s particularly tempting to me is bolinhos de arroz which I’ll prepare before the month is up if we have time. This one’s based on a recipe from Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality.

1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound salt cod
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, beaten (I used egg substitute for half of the mixture for my egg-sensitive kids)


Pre-soak cod for 1 1/2 days in the refrigerator, changing the water every 4 hours or so. Taste a little piece and if it’s still very salty, soak in scalded milk for 10 more minutes to draw out the rest of the salt. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Shred the salt cod by hand then drain again and pat dry with paper towels. Boil the potato cubes in salted water until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Mash or run through a ricer. Set aside in a bowl. In a large skillet, cook the chopped onion in the oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add cod and cook another 5 minutes. Add parsley and cook for 2 more minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then add to the mashed potatoes. Mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Heat oil in deep fryer. Using two spoons dipped in cold water, form balls and drop into hot oil. Fry balls in batches, about 3 minutes per batch, until golden. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the rest. Serve immediately.

Ms. Von Bremzen suggests serving it with a Latin-style tartar sauce, flavored with green olives, cilantro, hot sauce and lime juice, but my kids and I enjoyed this plain. In the Philippines, or at least in several Filipino cookbooks that I have, it is mentioned that bacalao is usually found at the rich man’s table during Lent. The opposite is true here in the US, since salt cod is very affordable. It’s certainly less expensive than fresh fish.

Tomorrow, another fish dish, perfect for Fridays in Lent!


  1. eat matters says:

    bacalao and lent are synomyous in the pinoy psyche. though i am not roman catholic, this dish evokes memories of the Lenten celebration back home. our happens to be near the archbishop’s palace (well, that’s how they call it even if it’s not that big)and the Jaro Cathedral where the miraculous growing Virgin with a thousand candles is housed.

    looking at the your pics though,i just want to grab a bottle san mig or spanish wine and nibble at the salty fritters.

  2. sha says:

    with the lenten season seafood expensive right now
    but most greeks buy salted cod.
    i think the last time I checked it was over 8€ a kilo.

    there is a tavern in town which is known for fried bacalao.
    just mentioned to M about bacalao he already said yes we will go eat out yippee

  3. Lucy says:

    Bacalhao has been eaten in my house almost once a month right now,it can be made a few diff ways,its the best!But like someone who mentioned it is quite pricey in certain areas! Ofcoursecoming from the Azoresisland we used to catch the fish and salt ourselves, boythe good ole days!!

    Ha ha..

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