Bacalhau, salted cod, is an ingredient that is used a lot in Portuguese cooking. It is so popular in Portugal that the supermarket had a special department with just bacalhau. Bacalhau is not produced in Portugal itself, but imported from places like Norway and Iceland. It was ‘invented’ in the time that we did not yet have refrigerators to store fish. Good quality bacalhau is delicious (bad quality smells too fishy) and can be eaten without cooking after it has been soaked in cold water. In this way you can compare it to the fish-version of prosciutto (salted leg of pork).
It is available in different qualities and sizes, where the largest size (especial, of 3 kilos or more) requires 72 hours of soaking before it is ready to use.
Here it was sold as a whole fish, that was then cut up into manageable pieces.
The bacalhau can be kept at room temperature, so I took a whole fish back home in my suitcase.
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most popular Portuguese dishes with bacalhau. We had it several times during our trip, including as part of the tasting menu at Alma. The dish was created by the restaurant Brás in the Lisbon quarter of Bairro Alto. It consists of bacalhau mixed with fried potatoes in matchsticks, onion, and beaten egg. It is tasty comfort food and very filling.
For 4 servings as a full meal
500 grams (1.1 lbs) soaked and cleaned bacalhau, from approximately 500 grams of salted bacalhau (it gains weight from the soaking and then weight is lost from removing skin and bones)
500 grams (1.1 lbs) waxy potatoes
250 grams (.55 lbs) onions
salt and freshly ground black pepper
black olives, for garnish
parsley, for garnish
Soak the bacalhau in cold water, keeping it refrigerated, and refreshing the water three times per day. The bacalhau I took home was “especial” and so it took 72 hours or 9 times of changing the water.
Shred the bacalhau with your fingers, discarding the skin and bones. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Chop the potatoes into matchsticks.
Soak the potato sticks in cold water to remove the excess starch, then dry them with a clean tea towel.
Fry the potato sticks in a generous amount of olive oil over medium heat…
…until cooked through. The potatoes should not become crispy.
Take the potato from the pan and allow to drain to remove any excess oil. Discard all but 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in the frying pan.
Slice the onion.
Cook the onion over medium heat in the remaining olive oil, until soft. Do not allow the onions to become crispy or brown, but they should be soft.
When the onions are done, add the potatoes back to the pan.
Add the shredded bacalhau as well. Stir over low heat until everything has been mixed very well and heated through.
Beat the eggs. Turn off the heat and add the beaten eggs.
This is just like making carbonara: the eggs should be cooked by the heat of the potatoes, onion, and bacalhau. The egg should not stay too runny, but you don’t want scrambled eggs or a frittata either.
Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve, garnished with black olives and parsley. This is one of the few Portuguese dishes where parsley is used rather than cilantro, which would overpower the flavor of the bacalhau.
At home we enjoyed this with an oaked Encruzado from Dão, but at Alma it was also great with a light-bodied red wine.