Bacalaitos are crispy, flavorful codfish fritters from Puerto Rico. They are classic Puerto Rican street food at many kiosks that dot the island’s beachside. This bacalaitos recipe is easy to make and so addictive. They’ll keep you coming back for more, so be sure to make the full recipe. Follow my tips and techniques below to make the most authentic salted codfish fritters this side of Loíza.
What Are Bacalaitos?
Bacalaitos are deep-fried codfish fritters made from a flour-based batter and traditional Puerto Rican herbs and spices.
Salted cod or saltfish is the main ingredient in bacalaitos. Puerto Rican sofrito, spices, and flour combine to create a simple batter to which you add the desalinated codfish. The codfish batter is then deep-fried until crisp, resulting in something between a savory funnel cake and a salted chip. But in the best way possible because that sounds weird.
Where Do Bacalaitos Come From?
It’s hard to say where exactly codfish fritters come from. You can find codfish in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, so we can’t say the fish itself is from one place. Many countries also have their own version of salted codfish fritters.
Bacalaitos, made this way, are from Puerto Rico. The most popular place to find these fritters is at los kioskos (or the kiosks), which are often wooden buildings, many with zinc roofs, perched near the water’s edge. Two of the most well-known are in the municipalities of Isabela, Loíza, Luquillo, and Ponce, Puerto Rico. Piñones is our local kiosko spot since it’s closest to where Hector’s family lives.
People traveling through the cities stop at their favorite kioskos and order frituras (fried foods). Many kiosks have their specialties, and it’s not unheard of to kiosk-hop to ensure you get the best of the best. After grabbing your Medallas (Puerto Rico’s beer), piña coladas, or mojitos to drink, you claim your spot and dig in.
What Is Salt Cod?
Salted cod is a throwback to the days of colonization when fresh food wasn’t practical. It was a way of preserving meats and fish when ice chests and electric fridges were non-existent. Fish loins were buried under salt to pull out the moisture in the flesh, which bacteria feed on.
Many people worldwide still eat salted cod even though refrigeration is so common. In the Caribbean, especially, salt fish or bacalao is a staple. The West Indies are known for their Salt Fish and Bakes. This recipe from Imma at African Bites is great if you want to try your hand at it. Portugal has something like 1001 ways to prepare codfish. Many African countries, like Cape Verde, eat codfish. This Cape Verdean recipe Crystal from Crumbsnatched is fantastic. And, of course, Puerto Ricans cook with salted cod a lot.
Salted cod is usually in the seafood section, but it’s most often in a refrigerated case near the canned crab meat and smoked salmon. If you have a large African, Caribbean, or Asian community, you may find it in their grocery stores. It’s usually very salted and, therefore, very dry in these ethnic markets and contains more bones, fins, and skin. Depending on how dry the fish is, the time to desalinate can take anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours.
How Long Do I Have To Soak Salted Codfish?
You have to soak salted codfish before cooking it in recipes. If you skip desalinating your codfish, you might as well grab a salt lick and enjoy that. Bacalao is too salty to consume straight out of the package, so you must soak it to remove most of its salt.
Once you get it home and are ready to make your bacalaitos, rinse the fillets under cold running water. Pop them into a large bowl (or the pot you plan to boil in) and cover them with 4 to 6 inches of cold water. Leave the cod to soak for 30 minutes, then drain off the water. Rinse the codfish again under cold water, pull it apart into big 2-inch chunks, and put it into a pot or dutch oven. Cover the codfish pieces with 4 to 6 inches of cold water and bring the water up to a boil over medium-high heat. Set a timer for 15 minutes once the water begins to boil.
Remove 1 cup of the cooking water from the pot when the timer goes off. Allow the cooking water to cool completely, then add 1 cup of cold water to it. Set this aside.
Drain the rest off the rest of the cooking water and rinse the codfish in cold water. Pull the bacalao into smaller chunks that are no more than a 1/2-inch big. You want the pieces of bacalao to be on the larger side because as you mix the fish into the batter, they will break into smaller pieces.
Can I Make Bacalaitos With Fresh Cod?
You can use fresh cod to make bacalaitos if you can’t find salted cod. You need to add salt to this bacalaitos recipe to compensate for the fresh cod’s lack of salt.
Steam or bake the fish for 10 minutes until it flakes easily with a fork. Allow the fish to cool after you flake it into chunks.
Can I Use A Different Fish?
Fish that you can replace with cod are pollock, haddock, hake, and striped bass.
Pollock and hake are the only fish that comes salted as cod does. If you can’t get them salted, follow the instructions for replacing the salt I gave above.
How Do I Make Bacalaitos?
To make bacalaito batter, you need all-purpose flour, cornstarch, black pepper, oregano, sazón, minced onion, red bell pepper, garlic, sofrito, white rum, or white vinegar. You also need frying oil, like lard, peanut, or vegetable oil, to deep-fry the bacalaitos.
Use a large spoon or rubber spatula to fold the minced onion, pepper, garlic, sofrito, and white rum (or vinegar) into the flaked codfish in a large bowl.
Can I Make Gluten-Free Bacalaitos?
Combine the flour, cornstarch, black pepper, oregano, and sazón in a separate, smaller bowl using a whisk.
To make gluten-free bacalaitos, replace the all-purpose flour in this recipe with a Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour.
I don’t like flat Bacalaitos. How do I make mine puffy?
These bacalaitos are on the flatter side because we prefer them that way. To make fluffy bacalaitos, a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour mixture.
If you prefer flatter, crispier bacalaitos, dilute the batter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of water. As written, the fritters will rise to about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch.
Add as much of the reserved cooking water mixture to reach the desired thickness of your fried bacalaitos. The more water you add, the thinner the fritters will be. Use 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the reserved liquid for thicker fritters until your batter looks like a pancake batter. Super thin, almost chip-like bacalaitos require a very thin batter similar to the consistency of milk. That usually requires all of the cooking liquid mixture.
Whisk the cooking water into the flour until you’ve reached the desired consistency.
How Far Ahead Can I Make the Bacalaitos Batter?
Add the bacalao to the prepared batter and use a rubber spatula to fold in the fish pieces just until they are evenly combined.
You can make the bacalaito batter a day ahead and fry it the next day if you don’t add baking powder. If you add baking powder to the bacalaito batter, fry them shortly after mixing the fish, or your fritters won’t be puffy.
Begin heating the frying oil to 350°-375°F (177°-190°C) in a caldero or wide cast-iron dutch oven once you mix the bacalaito batter. A deep fryer will also work.
While waiting for the oil to heat, grab a wide spoon or transfer your batter to a big glass or metal pitcher. These make adding the bacalaito batter to the hot frying oil easier. Make sure to use a metal or heat-safe glass pitcher since plastic will melt as soon as it touches the oil.
How Long Do I Fry the Bacalaitos?
Test that the frying oil is hot enough by either dropping a pea-sized amount of the batter into the oil to test it or with a deep-fat fryer thermometer.
If you’re using the batter method to test your oil, the batter should be surrounded immediately with bubbles and hover between the top and middle of the pot. The most foolproof way to test the oil is with a thermometer. You just put the probe in the oil, and it tells you if the oil is hot enough.
Oil temperatures will drop by 15-20°F, so allow the oil to reach at least 360°F (182°C) before frying your bacalaitos to avoid making them soggy and greasy.
Add the bacalaito batter to the hot oil using a kitchen spoon by spreading the batter into a line as you pull away from you to the other side of the pot. Try to be steady and not let the batter splash too much as you go from bowl to pot.
Using a pitcher to pour a line of the bacalaito batter is much easier. Make sure to get the pitcher’s spout as close to the surface of the oil as possible to avoid popping yourself with the oil.
Test the bacalaito batter before frying the entire batch. Fry the test bacalaito for 3 minutes, then use tongs to flip it to the over. Fry it for another 3-4 minutes or until it is crisp and deep golden brown. Remove this tester from the oil and allow it to drain on a cooling rack set over a sheetpan. Avoid draining your bacalaitos on paper towels, which traps the oil against them and causes them to become soggy.
How Do I Fix My Batter?
Taste test the first bacalaito to ensure its salt level is good. If it’s too salty, thin the batter with more water. Add up to 3/4 teaspoon more salt if it’s not salty enough. Too thick? Add more water to thin it. Not thick enough? Add a little more flour to thicken it up.
Once your bacalaito batter is adjusted to suit your preferences, continue frying the batter just like you did before.
Can I Air-fry Bacalaitos?
Air-fried bacalaitos don’t have the same texture as deep-fried ones since they are soft in the middle with crispy edges. They still make a good snack if you need to reduce fat, though.
You will need an air fryer with a tray, not a basket.
To Air-Fry Bacalaitos:
- Make the batter on the thicker side by adding less cooking water. The consistency should resemble something between pancake batter and heavy cream.
- Preheat an air fryer to 400°F on the “Air Fry” setting. Line the tray with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil (regular foil is more prone to tearing). Generously grease the foil with non-stick cooking spray to keep the bacalaitos from sticking.
- Spoon a puddle of the bacalaito batter onto the tray about 2 inches in diameter. Slide the tray into the air fryer and fry them on the first side for 5 minutes.
- Pull the tray out and carefully lift up the bacalaitos around the edges. Once the edges are up, flip the bacalaitos over. Be patient when flipping them. The thinner edges will stick to the foil more. It’s worth it to avoid using more oil on the foil, which could cause a flair-up.
- Return the tray to the air fryer and fry the bacalaitos for another 5 minutes.
Air-fried bacalaitos aren’t as crispy as their fried counterparts but are “meatier.”.
Don’t come for me in the comments about how they’re not “exactly the same” because I just said that. But, again, they’ll do.
How Do I Serve Bacalaitos?
Puerto Rican Bacalaitos are commonly eaten as a snack or appetizer. You can also serve bacalaitos as a main course with a side of Arroz con Gandules and a simple salad. I serve them as lunch for the family when I don’t want to be bothered with a “meal meal.”
Can I Store Leftovers?
Leftover bacalaitos don’t taste as good as freshly made ones because they get doughy and soggy the longer they sit. Reheating them in the oven doesn’t produce the same results, either.
If you don’t think you can eat all of them, make as many as you can enjoy in one sitting. Store the bacalaito batter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
You can also freeze the bacalaito batter after you mix it. Just freeze it in a freezer-safe storage container for 2 months. Thaw the batter completely in the fridge when ready to fry it.
Be sure to try out my Bacalaitos recipe and get a taste of La Isla del Encanto without jumping on a plane. I know you’ll love the crunchy texture and burst of flavor in each fritter.
Let me know what you think in the comments below if you make them. Don’t forget to pin this Bacalaitos recipe to your appetizer boards and share it with your buddies.
Bacalaitos (Puerto Rican Salted Codfish Fritters)at Sense & Edibility
- 1 pound (454 grams) salted codfish desalinated, 1 cup of cooking water reserved (see instructions in post) *see notes for directions on using fresh cod*
- 1/4 cup (13 grams) onion from 1/4 of a medium onion, minced
- 1/4 cup (37 grams) red bell pepper from 1/4 of a large pepper, minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons sofrito
- 1 1/2 teaspoons white rum or white vinegar, optional
- 1 cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (7 grams) cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet) sazón con culantro y achiote
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup (237 milliliters) cold water plus more as needed
- oil for frying (about 8 cups)
- In a wide caldero or dutch oven, preheat 8 cups of cooking oil to 360°F (182°C) over medium-high heat. Set a cooling rack set over a sheetpan to drain the fried bacalaitos on later.
Prepare the Bacalaito Batter
- Pull the cooked codfish apart into smaller chunks that are hearty but not more than a bite-sized chunk. In a mixing bowl, fold the onion, red bell pepper, garlic, sofrito, and rum (or vinegar) into the flaked codfish. Set this bowl aside.
- In a separate, larger bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, sazón, oregano, and black pepper. Stir the ingredients together with a whisk to distribute them evenly.Combine the cold water with the reserved cooking water from the bacalao. Add anywhere from 1 1/2-2 cups of this water to the flour mixture, whisking slowly until a batter forms. The more water you add, the thinner the fritters will be once they're fried.*
- Add the fish to this batter and use a rubber spatula to fold the fish in just until evenly combined.
Fry the Bacalaitos
- Use a wide spoon or transfer your batter to a big glass or metal pitcher. These help with dropping the batter into the hot frying oil. Once the oil reaches 360°F (182°C), scoop a spoonful** of the batter up with your kitchen spoon. Bring the spoon to the surface of the hot oil and "lay" it into the oil, spreading the batter into a line as you pull away from you to the other side of the pot. Try to avoid splashing the batter as you go from bowl to pot.
- Fry the first "test" bacalaito for 3 minutes, then use a pair of tongs to flip it to the other side. Fry it for another 3-4 minutes or until it is a deep golden brown and crisp. Taste this bacalaito. Adjust the seasoning/consistency of the rest of the batter as needed.
- Once your bacalaito batter is adjusted to suit your preferences, continue frying the batter just like you did before.Transfer the fried bacalaitos to the cooling rack. Try to stand them up in between the racks so most of the oil drains from them onto the pan below. You can keep them warm in a 170°F oven, but I find they get soggier faster in enclosed spaces.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- If you can't find salted codfish, use salted pollock or hake.
- If you can't find any salted fish, use fresh cod, pollock, hake, haddock, or striped bass and boil it for 10 minutes or broil it for 6 minutes on high.
Once cooked, flake it with a fork and use as instructed. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the flour with the rest of the spices.
- Replace the all-purpose flour with Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour if you have a gluten allergy.
- For puffy bacalaitos add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to your flour mixture.
- Make the batter the day before you plan to fry it and store it in a covered container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Fry as instructed
**Using a pitcher to pour a line of the batter is much easier for those who are afraid of deep-frying. Make sure to get the pitcher's spout as close to the surface of the oil as possible to avoid popping yourself with the oil. Also, make sure to use a metal or glass pitcher for this. Plastic will melt as soon as it touches the oil.
Air-Fryer Directions:You will need an air fryer with a tray. Make the batter on the thicker side by adding 1 1/2 cups of the water to it. You want the consistency to be somewhere between pancake batter and heavy cream.
- Preheat an air fryer to 400°F on the "Air Fry" setting.
- Line the tray with a double-layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Use heavy duty since regular foil is more prone to tear.
- Generously grease the foil with non-stick cooking spray. I use an olive oil spray, but any that's flavored well will do. Be sure to spray it liberally to keep the bacalaitos from sticking.
- Spoon a puddle of the bacalaito batter onto the tray. I can fit 3 2-inch puddles on mine.
- Slide the tray into the air fryer and fry them on the first side for 5 minutes.
- Pull the tray out and carefully lift up the bacalaitos around the edges. Since they're thinner, they're the most cumbersome to lift up. Once the edges are up, flip the bacalaitos over.
- Return the tray to the air fryer and fry the bacalaitos for another 5 minutes.
Tip and Tricks for Making Bacalaito Batter:
For thick, funnel cake-like bacalaitos: add 1- 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.
For super thin, almost chip-like bacalaitos: add 2 cups of the cooking water.
Too salty: thin the batter with more water.
- Too Bland: add a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt to the batter.
- Bacalaitos are too thick: add 1 tablespoon of water a little a time until you achieve the desired consistency.
- Bacalaitos too thin: add a tablespoon of flour until you reach the desired thickness.
- Too soggy: the oil is too cool, increase the temperature to between 360°-370°F
- Browning too fast: the oil is too hot. Decrease the temperature.
I made these and paired with a salad for an simple dinner the other night. Super satisfying and I can see why they’re typically enjoyed as snacks. Hard to stop eating!
Isn’t it great that they can go from snack to main course with the pairing of a side dish?