A traditional salt cod recipe from Northern Portugal, Bacalhau a Moda do Minho. Each family has its own recipe passed down for generations, but I bet they all have a common denominator, namely potatoes. This recipe is from my 1930’s Portuguese cookbook, where a group of notable gentlemen from Lisboa got together once a month and cooked dinner, probably accompanied by plenty of wine and, to finish the evening, a few glasses of port and cigars.
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 60 minutes, but you need to desalt the fish 2-3 days in advance (see Preparation Segment)
- 2 lbs (900 g) salt cod, desalted
- black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- freshly ground pepper, or to taste
- 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika, or to taste
- 2 lbs (900 g) Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced, preferably with a mandolin
- 4 cups (560 g) onions, thinly sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 Tbsp cilantro (coriander leaves) or flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
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 (stoccafisso).
Desalting bacalhau is absolutely necessary. How long you soak it depends on the thickness, the cut and how old the bacalhau is. In my opinion it is best to soak it for at least 2 days, may be 3 days, changing the water 2 – 3 times a day. After desalting and before I prepare a bacalhau dish I do a test run first, cooking 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. Supermarkets in Portugal often sell bacalhau demolhado, the already-soaked and desalted bacalhau.
Place desalted codfish pieces in a saucepan. Cover with water. Add a bay leaf and 4-5 peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook cod for about 15-20 minutes or until the fish starts flaking. Let codfish cool in the water for about 5-10 minutes. Remove skin, if any, and check for bones.
While the codfish is cooking, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook it until nicely golden and a bit caramelized about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook it 2 minutes longer. Set aside.
Shred cod fish flesh roughly and place it in a bowl. Season with fresh pepper, smoked paprika, chopped cilantro or parsley. Taste for salt, if necessary. Set aside.
Preheat oven at 350° F/175° C. Pat potato slices well with paper towels. In a large saucepan heat vegetable oil as needed over medium-high heat. Fry potatoes slices until they begin to brown on the edges, golden and crisp on both sides. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Keep them warm while you fry the rest of the potatoes.
Oil a baking dish lightly and start by layering the potatoes first in the dish. Top it with the shredded codfish and top it again with the potato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Add the caramelized onions and garlic on top. Bake it for 25-30 minutes. Just before serving sprinkle it with cilantro and drizzle it a bit with extra olive oil if you like.
Salad greens are a nice match for this dish.