Bacalaitos, Delicious Puerto Rican Codfish Fritters

Located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, the island of Puerto Rico has about 360 miles (580 kilometers) of coastline. For that reason, much of the island’s cuisine includes seafood. However, cod don’t live in the Caribbean Sea’s warm waters. And, that fact makes the popularity of bacalaitos a mystery for those unfamiliar with the island’s history.

Bacalaitos, or cod fritters, are a Puerto Rican staple. They are flat and chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Bacalaitos are typically sold at food kiosks along the country’s beaches. Although they first appeared during the time of the Spanish explorers, they originated in Africa.

Since bacalaitos are not common in the United States, you may not have heard about them before today. So, let’s cover everything that you need to know about these delicious Puerto Rican snacks.

What Are Bacalaitos?

Bacalaitos are a traditional Puerto Rican snack made from breaded salted codfish. (The term Bacalaitos comes from the standard Spanish word bacalao, which translates to “salt cod” in English.)

Bacalaitos recipes use dry salted codfish that has been left in water overnight and then boiled to remove most of their salt. The cod is then chopped or shredded, mixed with water and seasoned batter and fried.

Heavily seasoned, the batter typically contains a combination of annatto, baking powder, and black pepper. It also contains coriander seeds, cumin, oregano brujo, parsley, and sage. Additionally, it can also include a few Latin American ingredients, including sazon seasoning, sofrito, and adobo seasoning.

  • Sazon seasoning usually contains a blend of achiote, ground annatto seeds (a natural yellow food coloring), and black pepper. Additionally, it has ground coriander, ground cumin, and garlic powder. It can be purchased online, or you can easily make it yourself.
  • Sofrito is a cooking base used to enhance the flavor of soups, stews, rice, and other everyday food items in Puerto Rico. It typically contains some sort of sweet pepper like banana peppers and bell peppers. It also has garlic, onions, and either cilantro or culantro, an herb with a similar aroma and taste to cilantro. You can buy sofrito on the internet if you can’t find it locally.
  • Adobo seasoning is a savory seasoning used to marinate or season chicken, fish, or meat. It includes a blend of black pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and ground turmeric. You can find adobo seasoning online or at many large grocery stores.

Bacalaitos are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Additionally, they resemble irregularly shaped, deep-fried pancakes. They are wildly popular in Puerto Rico. And, carnival vendors, beach shacks, and kiosks sell them.

The History of Bacalaitos

Bacalaitos Dish with vegetables
Bacalaitos Dish

Von Diaz, Puerto Rican radio producer and author of Coconut and Collards, recently talked about the influence of a variety of different cultures on Puerto Rican cuisine. According to her, it would be difficult to say that any particular style of food was the “original indigenous cuisine of Puerto Rico.”

Instead, its food is a hybrid of the native peoples of Puerto Rico. Initially, its cuisine was a mix of the native peoples of the island and African slaves working in the sugar industry in Puerto Rico. Next, the ingredients and techniques of the Spanish conquistadors influenced the island’s food. Then, American flavors and procedures came into play at the end of the nineteenth century after Spain lost control of the island after the Spanish-American War.

According to Mrs. Diaz, the island’s cuisine is a kind of “mish-mash” of those four distinct cultures. The origins of bacalaitos, fall squarely in that model to a certain extent.

How Bacalaitos Were Introduced to the Caribbean Islands

Raymond Sokolov, an author and former food editor for The New York Times, discussed the origins of bacalaitos in his book Why We Eat What We Eat.

Sokolov wrote that salt cod traveled well in ships’ holds that carried provisions to the colonies located in the New World. Originally brought to the Caribbean by Spanish colonists, salted codfish became part of the local cuisine on islands in the region.

Continuing, he wrote that nowadays, “you will be happy to find” bacalaitos at food stands on the Puerto Rican beaches. Citing British food writer Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, Sakalov wrote that you could find bacalaitos on other islands under different names.

For example, the French Islands call them acrats de morue. In Haiti, their name is marinades; in Jamaica, they are “stamp and go.” And, in Trinidad, they are in the same family as a dish called accra.

Ortiz went on to observe that there were some minor differences between these dishes in The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking. However, the basic concept of shredded or diced salt cod fried in batter did appear to originate from a “universal archetype. And, that particular model seems to be a West African fritter called accra.

So, like many other Puerto Rican dishes, bacalaitos originated from a blend of different cultures. In this instance, West African slaves, Spanish colonizers, and the indigenous peoples all contributed to the development of this dish.

How to Make Bacalaitos

Puerto Rican Bacalaitos Dish with Lemon
Bacalaitos Dish

Bacalaitos are relatively simple to make. Although you can use fresh cod if you prefer, traditional bacalaitos call for salt cod. And, you should try using it at least one time before making up your mind.

Considering our own experience, we combined recipes from several sites to develop ours. Some of those sites included Side Chef, Food.com, and The Noshery.

The Ingredients You Need to Make Bacalaitos

  • 8 ounces salt cod, cut into large pieces
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons sofrito
  • 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and minced
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 egg whites, beaten until soft peaks form
  • Vegetable oil for frying

How You Make Bacalaitos

  • Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, cover the cod with at least one inch of water. Next, refrigerate it for at least 24 hours, making sure to change to water about every 8 hours. Then, remove the cod, rinse it off with clean water, and pat it dry.
  • Bring six cups of water to a boil using a stockpot. Remove the pot from the stove and add the cod. Next, cover the pot for about 15 minutes until the water cools down. Then, transfer the cod to a cutting board and remove any remaining fins and skin. Using a sharp knife, cut the cod into bite-size pieces removing any bones you find.
  • Combine the cod, scallions, serrano chili pepper, sofrito, and tomato, in a mixing bowl and set aside. Then, combine the flour, dried bread crumbs, baking powder, salt, adobo seasoning, garlic powder, and black pepper in a separate bowl.
  • Lightly beat the whole eggs using a wire whisk or a handheld mixer. Next, stir in the milk and add it to the bowl containing the cod mixture and mix everything. Then, fold in the egg whites using a spatula or wooden paddle.
  • Heat enough vegetable oil to reach a depth of about two inches in a deep-sided pot. Once the temperature reaches 360 degrees, carefully drop a heaping teaspoon of the cod mixture into the hot oil and repeat it until the container is full. Fry the fritters until they puff up and are brown on both sides.
  • Then, transfer your bacalaitos to a small sheet pan lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat this process until all the bacalaitos are fried.
  • Serve them hot and enjoy.

What We Learned Today About Bacalaitos

Dish of Puerto Rican Codfish Fritters Bacalaitos
Puerto Rican Codfish Fritters Bacalaitos

We hope you enjoyed our article discussing everything you need to know about bacalaitos. Although this recipe may be new to you, it has been around the Caribbean Islands for centuries. For that reason, we think that you will love this recipe and will want to share it with your family and friends.

Before you leave, you might consider bookmarking this article for future reference. Additionally, you should check out some of our other articles about Puerto Rican cuisine including 8 Best Puerto Rican Breakfast Foods.

Visit our online store and shop for Puerto Rican classic foods and drinks.

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