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 parsley and are fried for a traditional Portuguese treat.

A close up of an oval plate with 3 salt pastéis de bacalhau, or salt cod fritters, and a lemon wedge, one is being cut into with a knife and fork.

Pastéis de bacalhau are a great Portuguese favorite. Although their real origin is the north, cod cakes became so popular that they were adopted as a true “national specialty.” Salt cod fritters 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. Pastéis de bacalhau are sold at delicatessens, patisseries, roadside cafés, tavernas—everywhere in Portugal.–Edite Vieira


If you’re just not down with salted cod, or for some reason can’t find it, Edite Vieira notes that these cod cakes are also quite nice made with fresh cod. Make sure to test the mixture before frying–you might have to add a little more salt to make up for the additional salt in the salt cod. Makes sense, right?

Pastéis de Bacalhau ~ Salt Cod Fritters

A close up of an oval plate with 3 pastéis de bacalhau, or Portuguese salt cod fritters, and a lemon wedge, one is being cut into with a knife and fork.
These Portuguese salt cod fritters, called pastéis de bacalhau, are made with salt cod, potato, onion, and parsley and are fried for a traditional Portuguese treat.

Prep 45 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 1 hr 15 mins
26 pastéis (about)
53 kcal
4.94 / 32 votes
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  • Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer


  • 10 ounces salted cod preferably thick pieces, soaked overnight [click for soaking directions]
  • 14 ounces russet potatoes unpeeled
  • 1 small onion very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 large eggs
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying


  • 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 previous soaked 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.

    TESTER TIP: 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 them 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.
Print RecipeBuy the The Taste of Portugal cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1pastelCalories: 53kcal (3%)Carbohydrates: 3g (1%)Protein: 8g (16%)Fat: 1g (2%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 38mg (13%)Sodium: 775mg (34%)Potassium: 236mg (7%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 73IU (1%)Vitamin C: 2mg (2%)Calcium: 24mg (2%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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Originally published May 10, 2000

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

These pastéis de bacalhau fritters are delicious. I’ve never cooked salt cod but when I last visited San Juan, I went to a wonderful restaurant called Santaella. When we got there, our table was not ready. The owner was embarrassed (can you believe it!) and offered us two seats next to the bar area where we could wait until our table was ready. He then brought us complimentary cocktails and bacalatos (codfish fritters made from salt cod). They were heavenly as was the rest of the food in that beautiful little restaurant.

So when I saw this recipe to test, I thought it would give me the opportunity to work with salted cod. And I’m so glad I did. Although these fritters were filling, they were also light and very tasty. You do have to start 24 hours in advance if you have a thick piece of salt cod, but most of that time, the cod is simply soaking and there’s not much to do.

Since this was my first time cooking salt cod, I would have appreciated it if the recipe told me whether to refrigerate the fish while it was soaking. However, the recipe was silent on that. I did research on my own and some recipes said specifically to put the fish in the refrigerator while soaking. I compromised and left the cod to soak in a bowl on the counter during the day, but refrigerated it overnight when I was not changing the water as frequently.

I used the technique that the recipe suggests for flaking the cod. It worked very well to put it in a clean dishcloth and pound the cloth with my fist. A word of caution: when forming the fritters, it is not enough to just shape them with the two spoons, they need to be compressed just a bit so they will hold their shape when put in the hot oil. Using my wok to deep fry them worked very well.

The recipe says it makes 24 to 30 hors d’oeuvres. I made mine the size of large eggs, as was called for in the recipe, and got 15. I then served these as a main with salad. They made a great Sunday night dinner. If I were to use them as hors d’oeuvres, I’d make them much smaller.

Easy recipe with clear instructions. The pastéis de bacalhau were also a hit in the house, especially with my 6-year-old. To soften the cod I used 6 cups of water. I didn’t use extra salt after cooking the cod. I got a total of 19 spoonfuls, so I’d say 6 servings. 


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. Hello. I need help. I’ve used your recipe in the past and been successful but the last two times I made them they disintegrate as soon as the hit the oil. I’ve used olive oil to deep fry them every time, but it’s worked before.

    Can you please tell me what I’m doing wrong. I tried adding more potato and more egg. The consistency seems right but they literally disintegrate in the oil.

    1. Hikari, I’m sorry the fritters didn’t turn out. I think the biggest culprit is moisture. A few things: Did you peel the potatoes? They should be boiled with their skins on to avoid extra moisture. Are you using large eggs? Extra-large or jumbo eggs will lend too much liquid. Lastly, is the salt cod fully drained of all water?

      Also, I’d suggest not using olive oil. It has a lower smoking point than the oils in the recipe, and it degrades quicker.

    1. Patricia, yes, you can freeze the cooked fritters. Ready to serve them, pop the frozen fritters into a 350°F oven until heated through. If they’re browning too much, cover them loosely with foil.

  2. 5 stars
    I have had a 120g can of bacalao sitting in my pantry since my husband and I went to Portugal in 2019. We used it to make a 1/3 portion of this recipe. I am generally hesitant about deep frying but these were totally worth it! Light, crisp and easy. The bacalao was canned with oil and I let it drip drain but wasn’t overly careful. I will definitely try it one day with dried salt cod. Served it with a mixture of kewpie mayo, grated garlic and smoked paprika. Thank you!!

    1. You’re welcome, Cathy! We’re thrilled that you enjoyed this and it turned out so well. Please let us know what you try next.

  3. My mom is 92 years young and lived in Portugal for a few years as a young child. Her fondest memories seem to involve pastéis de bacalhau as one of her absolute favorite thing, so tomorrow I’m going to make them for her and have her help with the preparations. She will be so thrilled and I can’t wait to watch her enjoy them. Thank you for sharing.

  4. my grandmother started making with bread instead of potatoes & so much fluffier… my problem is i don’t know the measurement… how much would you suggest for bread to replace potatoes?

    1. monica, that’s very interesting. I’ve never heard of using bread. I can’t tell you the amount of bread to use because I’ve never made it that way. I’m so sorry. Perhaps one of our readers might know. Readers?

      1. I did a batch for Thanksgiving with potato and a batch with bread. And everyone preferred the bread! My grandmother was onto something. So I’m now the 3rd generation doing it this way…. sadly my daughter will likely not carry on our tradition as she hates fish (she’s half Polish & takes after her Dad that way).

          1. I just add soft bread (sliced white works, just remove crusts) until i get the same consistency as with potato… ie spoon can stand up in mix and when you shape one it doesn’t fall apart. Also they tend to fry up faster than the potato ones.

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