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Bacalao Fritters
Bacalao Fritters Photo courtesy of Ted Axelrod

By the time mid-December rolls around, we’ve grown tired of serving holiday dinner guests common appetizers like chips and dip and cocktail nuts. Fortunately, chef Carmen Gonzalez saved us from cocktail-hour boredom this year by sharing a less-expected party bite: bacalao fritters. The chef’s light salt-cod fritters appear on the menu at her Portland, Maine, restaurant, Carmen at the Danforth, and are easy enough that home cooks can fry them up without a fuss. Served solo, with lemon wedges or with a sidekick like garlicky aioli, these little fried nuggets are the perfect finger food for this festive season.

Makes 6 to 8 appetizer-size servings (or about 12 fritters)

½ pound bacalao (dried salt cod)

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1½ cups water

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil, for frying

1. In a large pot, cover the bacalao with water. Bring the water to a boil, then continue boiling for 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, drain and check the bacalao for saltiness. (It should taste like the ocean. If it’s too salty, boil for 10 minutes longer, then drain and taste again.) Let the bacalao cool slightly, then transfer it to a small bowl and break it into small pieces with your fingertips. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix the flour with the baking powder. Slowly add the water and mix until a smooth batter forms. Gently mix in the reserved bacalao, the garlic and black pepper. Set aside.

3. Line a large plate with paper towels. In a deep saucepan, heat 1½ inches of canola oil until it reaches 350º. Working in batches, use two spoons to scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the batter. Quickly drop the batter into the oil and cook, turning a few times, until the fritters are golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per batch. (Reheat the oil between batches as needed.)

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the prepared plate and let cool slightly. Serve warm with desired accompaniments.

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