Happy New Year, my dear visitors ! I hope you have spent wonderful time enjoying delicious festive food. My holidays, from Christmas till New Year’s Eve, were filled mostly with wraps, canapés, rolls and other snacks. In spite of what I had worried about, preparing such kind of food for two was easier and more convenient than traditional festive “proper” meals. I cooked big batches which meant a new meal meant a short trip to the fridge, and sometimes a couple of minutes in the microwave or in the oven… Actually, I think I’ll repeat this particular menu pattern every single year! Though not planned in my shortlist, these fritters were one of the festive dishes we’ve particularly enjoyed as the only fish item. This was a good occasion to take new photographs and post again this old recipe from 2011.
“Accras/Acras de morue” (pronounced “akh-ra de morew“), probably the most famous Carribbean dish from French West Indies, are small fritters made with salted cod (“morue” in French; fresh cod is “cabillaud”), flour and seasonings. These snacks are utterly addictive and easy to prepare (though time consuming); if carefully prepared, they will be crisp outside, soft inside and not greasy. Similar preparations exist in Portugal and Spain (and maybe in other countries), but I know the Caribbean version, popular in mainland France where it is often served at parties.
If you have never tasted salted cod (to be precise it was salted and dried), it might be slightly off-putting for some when raw because of its strong smell, which weakens a lot once the fish is cooked (and which for me isn’t unpleasant, anyway). Salting and drying allows a longer fish preservation and this is the original aim of this process, but there is also a collateral benefit: the normally bland and common cod (at least in my opinion…) acquires interesting and complex flavours. There are many ways to eat salted cod (especially in Portuguese cuisine, from what I’ve heard), but whenever I see this product, I always think of acras de morue.
This fish preserving technique has 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 the extraordinary “Cod. A biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Mark Kurlansky.
The below recipe (modified) comes from Festins Créoles (English version is entitled “Creole” by Babette de Rozières, a French chef from Guadeloupe. I’ve modified it, so if you want to read the original, check this fascinating cookery book.
TIPS: As I have mentioned, salted cod might be convenient as emergency food, since keeps for ages in the fridge, but unfortunately, whatever you plan, you have to desalt it first and it is time-consuming. 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, though takes more time.
Make sure the batter is at room temperature (leave it – covered – for several hours in the kitchen): it will cook quicker inside and you will avoid burning the outside.
Some people manage to obtain smooth oval accras, but I have no idea how they do it… mine are always “shaggy” and each has a slightly different form (most homemade accras look this way anyway, so I don’t worry too much).
Whenever I deep-fry several batches of any food consumed hot, I always put a baking dish in the oven heated at 100°C, lined with paper towels. I fry one batch, drain it on paper towels and then put into the baking dish, so that it remains warm until the last batch (and the paper lining adds an additional fat draining step). This way, most food – apart from tempura – can also wait at least 30 minutes before being served or can be served in two times.
These fritters are delicious served with garlic mayonnaise, hot mango sauce, apricot and chili jelly or with any slightly tangy dip/sauce. I always serve them also with Pickled Sweet Pepper or Pickled Hot Pepper and recently with Moomins Cucumber Salad.
Last more tip: if you ever go to mainland France, beware : there is a big chance you will be served a subpar version. Unless you are in a good Caribbean restaurant or taste a homemade version, your acras will probably be soggy, oily, with low fish content and heavy batter. I must say I’ve had acras dozens of times and only homemade ones were good.
Preparation time: about 1h (+ 24h desalting+ at least 2-3 hours)
Ingredients (makes a starter for 4-6 people or a main dish for 3-4, if served with a big salad):
250g (about 0.55 lb) salted cod fillet (without skin or 300 g if it’s with skin)
150g (about 1 cup) flour
150 ml (about 5 oz) milk + water (see the explanations below)
1/2 package baking powder (or enough baking powder for 250g/0.55 lb flour; usually the packages I buy are each for 500g flour, it’s usually written at the back of the package; my half-package weighs 8 grams/0.28 oz)
2 small hot fresh chilies, finely chopped (medium hot, such as jalapeños are best in my opinion)
1 small onion or big shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed or grated (take one if you are not a huge garlic fan, like me)
2-3 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, rinsing it every time you change the water.
Once desalted, put the cod into a pan with cold water.
Bring the water to boil and let the cod simmer (at low heat) for 10 more minutes.
When the cod has cooled down, shred it discarding the bones (I advise shredding the flesh so that the bones are easier to spot).
In a big bowl shred finely the flesh with a fork and mix well with the chilies, the onion, the parsley, the garlic, the baking powder and the milk. (You can mix everything in a food processor, but I prefer to feel the texture of shredded cod bits, so I always mix everything by hand).
Taste the mixture before adding the flour (it’s doesn’t taste great with flour added…) and if it’s not salty at all (this depends on how well you have desalted the cod), start with 1/2 teaspoon salt, adding maximum 1 flat teaspoon. Afterwards, the saltiness will increase with the flour’s addition, so don’t exaggerate : you will adjust it at worst while frying the the first fritter.
Now add the flour and, if necessary, enough water to create a very thick batter (it should ressemble a Greek yogurt).
Put the batter into the fridge for 12 hours or leave it (covered) at room temperature for 2-3 hours. If you are really in a hurry, you can even fry the fritters after 30 minutes at room temperature, but the flavours from parsley, garlic, chillies and onion might not be as strong as after several hours. The batter might also not raise very well…in short, I cannot guarantee the result if you fry them straight away.
Take it out several hours before frying to avoid burning during the frying process and to accelerate it.
Heat the oven to 100°C. Place a baking dish into the oven and line it with paper towel. This will allow you to keep warm all the batches while you fry the following ones (see the TIPS).
Heat the oil in a pan. Make a test: if you throw a small bit of batter and it stays on the surface, creating bubbles and puffs, then the oil is usually hot enough.
Take the batter’s portions with a teaspoon (a heaped teaspoon makes a perfectly-sized fritter) and fry them until golden.
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. Remember also to check the saltiness of the first fritter, in case you must add more salt to the batter.
Drain the fritters on paper towels and place into the baking dish in the oven to keep every batch warm.