Codfish Soup (Sopa de Bacalhau) Recipe

Codfish Soup (Sopa de Bacalhau)

Salt codfish is widely used in Portugal in all shapes and forms. It’s no surprise, then, that there is a codfish soup recipe. Rarely found on restaurant menus, it’s dearly loved by country folks. It’s a poor man’s soup using water rather than fish stock. My recipe uses vegetable stock to maintain the traditional appearance of a clear soup yet with a more rounded taste.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes plus 24-48 hrs desalting in advance


  • 1 lb (450 g) salt cod, center piece (thick part), desalted, cut into 1 1/2 inches (3,8 cm) cubes
  • 1 medium-size onion, whole
  • 2 large potatoes, about 2 cups (450 g)
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 medium size eggs, poached
  • 4 cups (1 L) vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro (coriander leaves) or flat-leaf parsley
  • toasted bread to serve

Bacalhau is a fish, traditionally codfish, that is cured by dry-salting it. It’s a very old and sustainable method to preserve fish. Mostly associated with the Portuguese cuisine it also has its place in Spain (bacalao), Southern France (morue salée) and Italy (baccalà and stoccafisso).

Desalting bacalhau is absolutely necessary. How long you soak depends on the thickness of the cut and how dry it is. In my opinion it is best to soak it for at least 24 hours, may be 48 hours, changing the water 2 – 3 times a day. Supermarkets in Portugal often sell “bacalhau demolhado”, the already-soaked and desalted bacalhau. However its best to do a testrun first. Cook a small piece of cod in barely simmering water for 10 minutes and then let it cool. It should be mildly saline. Keep in mind that pan frying or roasting bacalhau, might cause residual salt to concentrate and render a saltier taste to the finished dish.


In a deep saucepan bring 4 cups (1 L) vegetable stock to a boil together with the whole onion and salt codpieces. Add more warm stock if necessary to barely cover the codfish. Reduce heat to a simmer and let the fish cook for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, peel and cube the potatoes. Plunge them in a bowl of cold water to avoid discoloration and set them aside.

Remove codfish and onion from water and save the broth. Pass the broth through a sieve and look for any fish bones if necessary.  Add drained potato cubes to the saved broth and cook potatoes for about 10 minutes or until al dente.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté garlic gently stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes.

Return codfish to the saucepan with the vegetable-potato broth and add the garlic. Warm it up gently. Taste for salt and pepper.

Divide codfish pieces into 4 servings. Add 1 poached egg per serving on top of the soup. Drizzle it with the remaining olive oil and fresh cilantro.

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