“Acras de morue” (pronounced “akh-ra de morew“) is probably the most famous Carribbean dish from French West Indies. At least this is the only one I have known very well for years, since it can be easily bought in mainland France. Acras are fritters made with salted cod (“morue” in French; fresh cod is “cabillaud”), flour and seasonings and apparently a similar preparations exist in Portugal and Spain (and maybe in other countries?).
Salting and drying is a fish preserving technique with a very long history. Apparently Basques were the first in Europe to trade internationally the salted cod already before the year 1000. (If you want to read a fascinating cod trade history, I strongly advise “Cod. A biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Mark Kurlansky. It’s an incredibly absorbing, extraordinary book.) This method allows a longer fish preservation, but there is also a collateral benefit: the normally bland and tasteless cod acquires an interesting and complex flavour. I have never liked fresh cod, but once salted and dried, it climbs up to the top of my favourite fish list. Salted cod has also a strong smell, but it puts off only those who haven’t tasted its miraculous transformation.
Even though salted – salt – cod is almost always in my fridge (it keeps for ages), I cannot say I prepare it often. This is due to the obligatory desalting stage which is either long or tiresome. There are two main methods. The first is the most popular and consists in soaking the fish for 24 hours, changing the water at least three times. The second consists in boiling the fish in several changed water batches until it is desalted. I prefer the former, which is much easier. If I tell you that apart from desalting, these fritters are the best if the dough is kept 12 hours in the fridge, you will understand why I don’t make them every week.
This recipe (a bit modified) can be found in Festins Créoles, which has an English version entitled “Creole” by Babette de Rozières, a French chef with Guadeloupe origins. She advises refrigerating the dough for 24 hours, but I think 12 hours is enough.
These fritters are simply addictive and worth all the effort and time. If the oil temperature is well adjusted they will be crunchy, soft inside, but not greasy. They are delicious served with garlic mayonnaise, hot mango sauce, apricot and chili jelly or pepper jelly… I always serve them also with Pickled Sweet Pepper or Pickled Hot Pepper and recently with Moomins Cucumber Salad.
Preparation time: 1h+ 24h desalting+12 hours in the fridge
Ingredients (makes a starter for 4 people or a main dish for 2):
250g salted cod fillet (without skin or 300 g if it’s with skin)
150 ml milk (or more)
1/2 package baking powder (or enough baking powder for 250g flour; usually the packages I buy are each for 500g flour)
2 small hot chilies, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
oil for deep-frying
Cover the salted cod with cold water and put into the fridge for 24 hours.
Change the water 3-4 times during that period.
Once desalted, put the cod into a pan with cold water.
Bring the water to boil and let the cod simmer (on a low heat) for 10 more minutes.
When the cod has cooled down, shred it throwing out the bones.
Mix the flesh in a food processor, add the chilies, the onion, the garlic, the baking powder, the milk and salt (taste the mixture and if it’s not salty at all, start with 1/2 teaspoon salt; you will add more just before frying; if it’s salty, skip the salt).
The dough should be thick, but possible to stir a bit with a spoon.
Put the dough into the fridge for 12 hours.
Take it out several hours before frying (it will burn less).
Heat the oven to the lowest temperature.
Put a baking dish with a paper napkin. This hot dish will allow you to keep warm all the batches while they are waiting for the last one.
Heat the oil in a pan. Make a test: if you throw a small bit of dough and it stays on the surface, creating bubbles and puffs, then the oil is usually hot enough.
Take the dough’s portions with a teaspoon (a heaped teaspoon makes a very good sized fritter) and fry them until golden brown.
(Some people manage to make acras light golden and well cooked inside, but I have never been able to do this).
You might have to check the first fritter if it’s well cooked inside and adjust the heat, the frying time or the number of fritters fried at the same time.
Drain on paper towels and place in the baking dish in the oven to keep every batch warm.