Before I moved to Baltimore, I did a tremendous amount of research on the city’s iconic foods because there’s no way I’d ever move to a city without good food. Most locals I spoke to were quick to tell me about steamed crabs, crab cakes, Maryland crab soup, crab pretzels, crab pizza, and crab fries (my favorites are from Crabtowne U.S.A.). But the thing that caught my eye was made not with fresh crab, but old salted cod.
“Coddies,” as they’re known, are something of a budget crab cake. That’s fine by me, because I love salt cod and often enjoy it even more than crab. According to one of my favorite food blogs, Old Line Plate, locals associate coddies with memories of the Baltimore of yesteryear, when you could grab yourself a fresh fried coddie with yellow mustard on a saltine cracker at any corner drugstore, or gorge on big platters of them at weekly church suppers. By the time I moved here, the coddies seemed to be mostly a memory found only at 100+ year old joints like Attman’s and Faidley’s, with the occasional “elevated” version found at trendy bars and restaurants. I was disappointed before I even rolled into town.
Once our family had unpacked the moving truck and settled into our charming row home, we discovered that in Baltimore, some of the best food isn’t coming from restaurants, but from technically illegal side hustles. Come summertime you’ll find the occasional house with a small sign innocuously placed near the front door, signaling to those who are “in the know” where they can find some of the best homestyle food in the city. And how did I get to be “in the know”? My 80-year-old neighbor Mr. Will is a coddie guy, and he just might be the best one in town. I’m not allowed to tell you where or how to find him, but suffice it to say I got Mr. Will to tell me his coddie secrets, and after translating his eyeballed measurements into quantifiable ones, I now have a recipe to share with all of you.
With Mr. Will’s blessing, I make my coddies in the air fryer, because it keeps my house from smelling like hot fried fish (Baltimore row houses are charming and poorly ventilated!). If you want to fry these the old-fashioned way, with hot oil in a skillet, go right ahead. Sometimes I double this recipe so I can freeze the leftovers, and then heat them up in the air fryer on nights when I can’t bring myself to make dinner. It’s not a bad idea for those of you without your own personal Mr. Will.
- 1 lb. salt cod
- 3 large russet baking potatoes
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 small onion, finely minced
- 2 small cloves garlic, Microplaned
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 sleeve of Ritz (or other buttery) crackers, crushed into fine crumbs
- 2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- Saltine crackers
- Yellow mustard
The night before you make the coddies, put the salt cod in a bowl in a clean sink. Fill with cold water, turn the faucet to a mere drizzle, and set it over the bowl. Leave it be, go to bed, and have sweet dreams about coddies.
The next morning, taste a small piece of the cod for saltiness—if it’s still a bit too salty then drain the cod, put it back in the bowl, fill it with boiling water, and let sit for another hour.
Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees. Oil up the potatoes, stab them a few times, and put them into the air fryer for 30 minutes. Hold them with tongs and split in half with a knife so the steam can escape, then set aside.
In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in butter until golden; remove to a small bowl and set aside. Remove the cod from the bowl of water and cut it into large pieces so it will fit into the saucepan, pour in the milk and enough water just to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the fish is soft and flaky. Drain the cod, and reserve the poaching liquid.
Scoop the potatoes out of their peels, put into a large bowl, and smash up as well as you can. Pour in the cod, beaten egg, the onion/garlic, Old Bay, and a bit of the poaching liquid, then cover and place in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill. (Quick tip: While not required, I mash my potatoes by throwing them into a paddle-equipped stand mixer for about one minute on medium speed, then I drop the speed to low and add the remaining ingredients, mixing until just combined.)
Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees. Use a scooper to make 2" balls, then roll in crushed Ritz crackers and put into the air fryer. Working in batches, cook the coddies for 10 minutes, then serve with yellow mustard on saltine crackers. If you’d prefer, you can also pan-fry the coddies for a few minutes per side until golden brown.