Salt cod (Bacalhau) is the national dish of Portugal and Bacalhau à Brás is popular in all Portuguese-speaking countries.
Bacalhau-based dishes are a Portuguese staple. In Portuguese cooking, bacalhau is the star ingredient in more than a thousand recipes.
Some are simple, everyday dishes, others are more elaborate which they serve on special occasions, such as Christmas Eve and Good Friday.
Source of Portuguese Bacalhau
When the Portuguese explored the colder waters of the North Atlantic, they discovered the local fisherman and their catches of cod. To preserve the fish for eating over the long winter months they used curing by drying and salting.
Cured fish is suitable for transporting long distances so the Portuguese could bring the fish back to the home country.
Now, Portugal gets the majority of its salt cod from Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The best results follow curing for between 4 to 9 months, becoming pale yellow with a delicate, flaky texture.
Premium salt cod is a luxury item, a far cry from the days when it was known as ‘fiel amigo’, meaning faithful friend or meat of the poor.
Preparation for Cooking
After being rehydrated by soaking in changes of water for between 24 to 72 hours, salt cod is then cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, frying, or braising.
You can find a fuller guide to desalting and rehydrating bacalhau in this article.
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Bacalhau à Brás
- 350 g Dried salt cod
- 7 tbsp Olive oil divided
- 5 potatoes medium, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
- 1 onion large, thinly sliced
- 8 eggs large
- ½ tsp Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 18 Black olives
- Gently rinse the salt cod under cold water to remove any surface salt. Soak overnight in cold water (12 to 18 hours) in the fridge, changing the water twice.
- Drain the fish, gently rinse again under cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Shred the fish into bite-sized strips.
- Using a cheese grater or the grater attachment of a food processor, grate the potatoes into shreds. Soak in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
- Warm the oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of the potatoes and pan-fry, stirring often to keep the potatoes from sticking together; remove with a slotted spoon when they turn golden brown, about 5 minutes, and set aside to cool on paper towels. Repeat this process with the other half of the potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the oil.
- Add the chopped onion to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fish and pepper; gently stir to combine. Allow to sauté until the fish is softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add half of the fried potatoes, stirring to combine, then pour the beaten eggs over everything. Scramble the eggs until cooked, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and the other half of the potatoes; add the black olives and serve.