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My mom made cod fish cakes about once a month when I was a kid. We were Catholic, so we didn't eat meat on Friday. Outside of the summer, there wasn't much fresh of anything to be found where I lived, and that was right next to the ocean. So, the fish mixture came out of a box. I ate the fish cakes – covered in ketchup because it was better than the once frozen one-pound block of mystery fish that mom over-baked on other Fridays.

I haven't paid attention to meatless Fridays in a long, long time. Mr. Lear and I eat fish when we want to, not because we have to – especially on any given day. But I have found an alternative to the box cakes.

This recipe calls for salt cod. It's fresh cod that has been roughly filleted and then salted. You soak it cold water to rehydrate it and remove the salt before you cook it. The salting technique is a form of preservation. The length of time it takes to remove the salt depends on how long ago it was salted.

Any merchant who sells salt cod will probably be very willing to talk to you about it. Ask before you buy. You'll know the fish is ready to cook when it turns white and doubles in bulk. If you can't find salt cod, you can substitute fresh cod. Start the recipe with step number two.

This recipe makes bite size croquettes/fritters but you could easily make larger cakes. It'll take a little longer for them to reach the golden stage. You could also dip the fritters in a flour, then egg, then bread crumbs coating before frying for a little more crunch.

Salt Cod Fritters

Ingredients:
1 ¼ lb. boneless salt cod
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 c. water
5 tbs. unsalted b utter
1 c. all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
canola oil for frying

Method:
1) Place the salt cod in a bowl of water, then cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, changing the water at least 4 times. The amount of soaking time depends on the saltiness of the cod. Thicker pieces take longer than thinner ones.

2) Drain the cod and place in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the cod from the water (save the water in the pan) and let cool slightly. Remove all traces of skin and small bones and shred the cod by hand or with a fork. Set aside.

3) Add the potatoes and bay leaf to the salt-cod cooking water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and pass through a ricer, or food mill, placed over a bowl. Add the salt cod and garlic to the bowl and mix well. Set aside.

4) In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the water and butter to a boil. Add the flour all at once and stir well until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan, 4-5 minutes.

5) Transfer the flour mixture to a bowl or to a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

6) Add the egg-flour mixture and parsley to the cod mixture and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7) Pour oil into a deep sauté pan to a depth of 3 in. and heat to 375°, or until a dab of the cod mixture sizzles and begins to color immediately upon being dropped into the oil. When the oil is ready, drop the cod mixture by tablespoonfuls into the oil; do not crowd the pan. Deep-fry until golden, 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels to drain briefly, and repeat until all of the fritters are cooked.  Serve piping hot with good quality aioli.

The mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for 6-8 hours. Fry immediately before serving.
Aioli

Ingredients:
1 tbs. finely chopped garlic (6-8 cloves)
1 tsp. coarse salt
2 egg yolks
3-4 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 ½- 2 c. mild olive oil.

Method:
In a mortar with a pestle pound together the garlic and 1 tsp. salt to a smooth puree. Place the egg yolks and half of the lemon juice in a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and blend to mix. With the motor running, gradually add the oil, a few drops at a time, until the mixture emulsifies to a thick mayonnaise. Add the garlic, the remaining lemon juice and salt to taste. If too thick, add a few drops of cold water. Transfer to a bowl and serve with the fritters.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Here's another cod dish. The recipe calls for fresh cod, but you can substitute salt cod that has been soaked and rehydrated. I serve this as part of a multi-dish Asian meal.
Thai Fish Cakes

Ingredients:
11 ounces cod, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 egg
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 ounces green beans, finely sliced
oil, for frying
chinese mustard cress

Cucumber Relish

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons sugar
1 head pickled garlic
1 cucumber, quartered & sliced
4 shallots, finely sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
2 red chilies, seeded & finely chopped

Method:
1) For the cucumber relish, bring the vinegar, water and sugar to a boil, Stir until the sugar dissolves, remove from the heat and cool.
2) Combine the rest of the relish ingredients together in a bowl and pour over the vinegar mixture.
3) Combine the fish, curry past and egg in a food processor and process well. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, except for the oil and garnish, and mix well.
4) Mold and shape the mixture into cakes about 2 inches in diameter and 1/4" thick.
5) Heat the oil in a wok or deep-fat fryer. Fry the fish cakes, a few at a time, for about 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Garnish with Chinese mustard cress and serve with the cucumber relish.

Yield: 12

Now it's time to ask you "what are you having for dinner tonight?" and invite you to stick around for a while. Go get a beverage, put your feet up and join in the conversation. We'll be here for a while.

Finally a friendly reminder: Check your politics at the door before you enter. This series is about sharing recipes and culinary tips.

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