Pastéis de Bacalhau ~ Salt Cod Fritters

These Portuguese salt cod fritters, called pastéis de bacalhau, are made with salt cod (it’s tasty, trust us!), potato, onion, and garlic and are fried for a traditional Portuguese treat.

Portuguese Salt Cod Fritters

Here is a great Portuguese favourite. Although their real origin is the north, cod cakes became so popular that they were adopted as a true “national specialty.” Cod cakes are ideal fare for snacks (hot or cold) and are featured at every Portuguese function, from the most sophisticated to the humblest. If there is anything really ingrained in the Portuguese palate, loved by everyone, this is it. Snobs may be somewhat derogatory about cod cakes, afraid of admitting that they too love this “poor-man’s dish,” but do not believe them. They probably eat them all the same, when nobody is looking. Cod cakes are sold at delicatessens, patisseries, roadside cafés, tavernas—everywhere in Portugal.–Edite Vieira

LC Something Fishy? Note

If you’re just not down with salted cod, or for some reason can’t find it, the author notes that these cod cakes are also quite nice made with fresh cod. Just saying….

Pastéis de Bacalhau | Salt Cod Fritters

  • Quick Glance
  • (7)
  • 1 H
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Makes 24 to 30 hors d'oeuvres
5/5 - 7 reviews
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Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer


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Boil the potatoes (preferably in their skins, so the potatoes don’t absorb water). Peel the potatoes and mash or sieve them. Set aside.

Meantime, simmer the cod in enough boiling water to cover until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the cod, discard the skin and bones, and flake the fish as much as you can with your fingers or a fork to reduce it to threads. (The proper way of doing this is to place the flaked cod inside a clean cloth, fold it and squeeze and pound the contents of the cloth with your fists. In this way you will have mashed cod.)

Mix the cod with the mashed potatoes and add the eggs, 1 by 1, and then the onion and parsley. Taste and, if desired, season with salt. You may not need to add any, as the cod itself retains quite a lot of saltiness, in spite of being soaked and boiled. The mixture should be quite stiff, enabling a spoon to stand up in it. If you find it excessively dry, add one or two tablespoons of milk. Allow this to cool completely before deep frying.

With two tablespoons, shape the fishcakes like large eggs and place in the hot oil (370°F/190°C), turning them three or four times to get nicely browned all over. When cooked, lift them with a big fork or slotted spoon and place them on kitchen paper, to absorb excess fat. Go on molding and frying until you use up the mixture.

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    1. Lush. I only soaked the bacalhau for 8 hours in 3 changes of water and had already peeled the spuds. But they came out great. I cooked in 4 batches. Batch 2 was best as batch 1 the oil wasn’t quite hot enough and the later batches were a bit too hot–like pancakes.

    2. I’m making them right now. They are falling apart in the fryer. I’m going to try to coat them in flour to see if that helps.

    3. i tried this using white tuna instead of bacalhau and bread crumbs instead of potatoes….Oh my god unbelievably better than the original recipe.

    4. My first salt cod recipe – was very delicious, but I would not use large spoons as the fritters (at least in the mixture created by me) sometimes fell apart in the pan. I used a mix of olive and sunflower oil plus some butter.

      1. They can be a little tricky, Anthony, but we’re glad you enjoyed them so much!

    5. Great recipe! My family loved them! I had these in Lisbon and I thought they were rolled in bread crumbs. I think I might try rolling them in bread crumbs next time for something different.

      1. Rita, these typically aren’t rolled in breadcrumbs. That’s usually reserved for the beef croquettes or the rissóis. But I think it’s a smashing idea to try it with these.

    6. Thank you David! I will be sure to now try them with garlic! Like all mom’s and grandma’s that you saw cooking, there were no specific measurements given when they made a dish. You had to watch and pay close attention. Now that they are gone, I have been having a lot of fun experimenting! :-) Thank you for the measurements!

    7. At the start of the article you say “are made with salt cod (it’s tasty, trust us!), potato, onion, and garlic”. However garlic is not listed in the ingredients list or instructions. My mom made them the same as your listed ingredients, but I would be curious how they would taste with garlic. How much would be used and is it cooked or raw before frying?

      1. Oh, my, Esther, I did. If you want to add garlic, and I always do, 1 finely minced clove added with the onion will do the trick. On a personal note: I usually cook the onion until soft and lightly browned, and add the garlic for the last minute. But that’s my preference.

    8. Just came back from Portugal where I had these. Found your recipe and tried it. They were as good as the ones we had in Lisbon. Made one change which was the eggs. Only used one egg, more would’ve made the mixture too soft and probably difficult to fry. Family loved it and will definitely make again using your recipe

      A batcho f pasteis de bacalhau, or fried oval Portuguese salt cod fritters on paper towels

    9. Hi David, can you substitute fresh cod for salted cod? and if so how would I cook the fresh cod before mixing it with the other ingredients.

    10. Hi There,

      This will be my second time making these. And they are exactly how my mother used to make them. I was fortunate enough to have a Portuguese mother who loved to make these. It was always a Fish Friday meal and again anytime she had the codfish. It was really nice to find the Codfish in the little box, at Claro’s in Tustin, CA. They carry the fish and the fillets, but the little box makes it quite easy…Happy Lent!

      1. Cheryl, so happy to know that you enjoyed the pastéis. And, wow, I haven’t seen codfish is those little wooden boxes in years. Brings back memories. Happy Lent!

    11. Can you make the mix and refrigerate the night before and fry them the next night? I don’t want to freeze it for just one night, but its too much work for one weeknight.

      1. Emma, I’ve never seen a sweet sauce served with them. Usually they’re popped in your mouth naked. Sometimes, though, a squirt of hot sauce isn’t out of the question. I guess you could try plum sauce. If you do, tell me what you think.

      2. We Portuguese accompany them with a good garden salad and a good tomato rice. Or simply pop them straight into your mouth as a snack. A good dozen! LOL

    12. When I make these fritters, I right away make enough extra to freeze some so I always have some available for a last-minute appetizer. Today I decided to broil them instead of fry them and, surprisingly, they came out beautifully. So for anyone looking for a healthier version, this is what I did:

      Set the oven at high broil and place the oven rack second to the top. Place the frozen fritters on a broiler pan and turn then about 3 times, about every 5 minutes. They came out golden and crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.

    13. Pastéis de bacalhau are my FAVOURITE food in all the world! It’s great if you want to get the kids occupied/entertained, as they’ll love to shape the pastéis with the tablespoons. I have so many fond memories of helping my grandmother and/or my mother shape these, along with my sisters. Great bonding time and it heightened the anticipation of eating them! I continued the “tradition” with my son when he was a “wee bairn” and he loved it. Great bonding time, too.

      1. Nelly, hear, hear. I have so many great memories of my grandmothers and aunts making these. I enjoy making them still. I love them warm with a little hit of piri-piri sauce.

    14. These were the first things I ever deep-fried :) Really simple, straightforward, and yummy. I was taking them to a party, and they got soggy along the way, but then I stuck them in a 250 oven for a few minutes, and they crisped right up again.

      Codfish Fritters Recipe

      1. Oh dear! What happened to them? They look like they been ran over…I’m Portuguese, pasteis de bacalhau is one of my favorite and my speciality. They are suppose to look like a perfect neat oval.

        1. Ana, I think we need to cut AppleSister some slack here! This is her first time ever frying something. As accomplished Portuguese cooks, you and I know there are so many things to consider if you’re not used to deep-frying. And the oval shape, which is done with two spoons, is a tough technique to master. I think she has done an amazing job!

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