Bacalhau. Even though this word is Portuguese for cod the truth is that, when anyone says bacalhau here in Portugal, we are referring to salted cod, which for us is the default. The Portuguese love affair with salted cod has been going strong for over 500 years.
Portuguese waters are abundant in fish, yet cod isn’t one of the species available. So how is it that the most representative fish of Portuguese cuisine isn’t even from here? It all started with the Portuguese maritime explorations, by the 15th Century. Portugal has always been into preserving fish, by drying it and salting it. Over 2000 years ago, Portugal was the main provider of cured fish for the Roman Empire, that back then extended pretty much all over now-a-days Europe.
Traveling overseas by ship, the Portuguese came across this attractive fish across the Atlantic, in Newfoundland. They started fishing and curing its flesh in order to have food for their return trip back home. They developed such a taste for it that, these days, we keep importing cod, mostly from Norway and Iceland. Portugal is a small country but we are one of the main consumers of cod in the whole wide world.
During our last Taste of Lisboa at Home session, our host Ana along with her mom Antónia showed us how to cook Lisbon’s most iconic cod dish: Bacalhau à Brás. This stir fried dish was born in the bohemian neighborhood of Bairro Alto and is one of those dishes that features in the wishlist of a lot of food travelers who come to visit us.
If you can’t travel to Lisbon right now, we challenge you to make it at home! We promise an easy-to-cook recipe and the end results surely pay off!
Ingredients for 4 servings:
2 previously soaked cod loins
4 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
Oil for frying potatoes
Olive oil for sautéing
Handful of fresh parsley
Black olives for garnishing
Peel the potatoes and chop them very thinly, to obtain straw potatoes. Soak them in water for about half an hour, to remove excess starch. Once this has been done, take them out of the water, pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel and fry them in previously heated oil.
Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones of the cod and shred it thin with your hands. You’ll see that the flesh comes apart very easily.
In a frying pan sauté sliced onions and chopped garlic with olive oil. Don’t forget to add in the bay leaf for that extra little touch of Portuguese magic. Once everything starts getting soft, add in the shredded cod and cover the pan. Leave it on low heat for a few minutes, until the cod turns white.
Your straw potatoes should be done by now. Remove the bay leaf from the onion mix and add in the potatoes. Pour in the beaten eggs too and move gently allowing the eggs to touch all the ingredients, but without scrambling. You’d be aiming to get a velvety dish, so don’t let the eggs dry up too much.
Finally, sprinkle your dish with chopped parsley and garnish with black olives. If you can, pair with a nice glass of Portuguese wine!
Make “anything” à Brás!
As our host Ana mentioned during the family cooking live session, à Brás is a cooking style that involves fried potato straws, onions and eggs. If salted cod is hard to come by on your side of the word, try this recipe with other ingredients, for example like prawns. You can even make it vegetarian, substituting the fish with leeks!
Extra tip: In case you find you don’t have all the time you wish to cook, you can speed up the preparation time by using a package of your favorite potato straws you usually find in your local grocery store or supermarket.
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