Brazilians are obsessed with finger food. The desire for tiny food comes from the need for neat portable snacks while spending a day on the beach in Rio and for their love of parties. There is no traditional party in Brazil without trays and trays of tiny little bites of goodness.
Over the course of several private cooking lessons, I have learned to make most of the truly famous Brazilian finger foods from my husband's grandmother, Dona Ita. I am not good at making any of them, because I have not had enough practice. Unfortunately for me, it takes a lot of time to make dozens of tiny bite sized snacks. We should really bow down to the Salgadinhos and Dim Sum makers of the world, as these two different kinds of tiny snacks take blood, sweat, tears and time to make properly.
That being said one of the few recipes I had NOT been taught by Dona Ita to make were Cod Fish Croquettes, mostly because salted cod fish was somewhat difficult to find and is a key ingredient in this recipe. But, I had some fresh Cod Fish I had purchased at the grocery store, and I decided to try to make Cod Fish Croquettes from them.
There was only one part of the recipe that troubled me, I couldn't quite get my mind around what it would look like to make them this way, and therefore I became highly intrigued with the idea of attempting making them just to prove that I could figure it out. The stumper was the use of beaten egg whites as the outer layer that would hold these croquettes together when I fried them in the hot oil. (Most Brazilian snacks are fried, so how they all keep their figures tight enough to wear those "bounda" revealing bathing suits on the beaches continues to boggle my mind.)
So, we called Dona Ita (who is 91 by the way) to ask her if she had ever made Cod Fish Balls using beaten egg whites as the outer coating. Silence on the line, then she confirmed that she had never heard of any croquette in Brazil being made this way. Then she thought perhaps this was not to make a coating, but just to make them shiny. She said she would cover them with breadcrumbs before attempting to fry them to make more of a coating. I decided to tempt fate and see what the results of an egg white bath before a dip in the hot oil would bring.
The results were interesting and much more delicious than plain breadcrumbs for sure. After creating the filling for the croquettes as instructed in the recipe, I carefully formed the oval shaped croquettes (Cod fish cakes are always oval in shape to identify them as being fish, as they are considered to be "fish shaped." A handy system of food coding, especially if you have an issue with fish, as one fried ball of goodness tends to look like another after a while.) and rolled them one by one in the lightly beaten egg whites quickly dumping them into the waiting hot oil.
The egg whites immediately puffed up and began cooking in the hot oil creating a light and crispy outer shell around the croquette that tasted like Funyun's chips, or corn chips. It was almost like watching an invisible magic outer coating being formed around the croquette during the frying process.
They were declared the best croquette's I had ever made, and immediately happily scarfed down by my Brazilian family.
Cod Fish Croquettes
1 lb. fresh or dried cod fish
1 quart water
3 Tbls. margarine
1 Tbls. Italian parsley or Cilantro (based on preference) chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled and pureed
1 cup of white flour
1 cup of milk
3 eggs separated
2 cups of vegetable oil for deep-frying
In a bowl, soak the cod fish overnight to remove any excess salt and soften it for use in this recipe, or use fresh cod fish fillets. If using dried fish, drain water and remove any skin or bones.
In a small pot, bring the quart of water to a boil, add the fresh or rehydrated cod fish and boil for 3 minutes, until poached. Discard water and shred the cod fish into little flakes. I normally use my hands and break them into the smallest flakes I can to avoid biting into a big chunk of cod fish in your filling. (Any Brazilian cook will tell you, the key to a successful Salgadinhos of any kind is the perfect filling. The flavor and texture of your filling is where the judge and jury will rule your bites a success or a failure.)
In a large pot, add the shredded cod fish, margarine, parsley, potato, flour, milk and yolks. Stir well and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, but be careful not to let it burn on the bottom. If it sits without stirring it will burn.
Once the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot, then take it off the heat and let it cool completely while you begin to set up your fry station. Take a large frying pot and fill it with the oil and begin to heat it. Get a separate bowl and fill with your three remaining egg whites that have been beaten until frothy, but not stiff.
When the filling is completely cool, spray Pam or oil on both of your hands and form the cod fish croquettes into ovals, dredge in the frothy egg whites and immediately drop into hot oil. Use a slotted spoon to continuously turn the croquettes in the pots to keep them frying equally on all sides. When they are golden brown remove from oil and place on cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain.
Serve them immediate with a bottle of your favorite hot sauce, as these are always served with hot sauce in Brazil. Enjoy!