Salt Cod and Potato Bake Recipe

Salt Cod and Potato Bake

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 plus 24 hours desalting the cod

Ingredients:

US MeasuresMetricICYMI
  • 2 lbs salt cod, desalted for at least 24 hours
  • black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika, or to taste
  • 2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced, preferably with a mandolin
  • 4 cups onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (coriander leaves) or flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, finely minced
  • 900 g salt cod, desalted for at least 24 hours
  • black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika, or to taste
  • 900 g Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced, preferably with a mandolin
  • 4 cups onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (coriander leaves) or flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, finely minced

Salt Cod, Bacalhau, Bacalao, Morue, Baccalà?

Dried and salted cod, also referred to simply as salt cod, is cod which has been preserved by drying after salting. It was a staple food for many people in the days before refrigeration, especially in Roman Catholic countries, due to the demand to avoid meat on Fridays.

Dried and salted cod has been produced for over 500 years in Norway, Newfoundland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. It was dried outdoors by the wind and sun on cliffs and rocks.

Salt cod is called bacalhau (Portugal’s national dish), bacalao (Spanish), morue (French) and baccalà (Italian). Stockfish, in Italian “stoccafisso”, is unsalted, dried cod.

Before it can be eaten, salt cod must be desalinated by soaking it in cold water for one to three days, changing the water two to three times a day. Well prepared salt cod is a delight: firm, slightly chewy, and not at all fishy in flavor. Make sure you buy the thick middle pieces. Many supermarkets and delicatessen in Portugal, Spain and Italy sell pre-soaked salt cod on Fridays and major church holidays nowadays. Before using them you need to test how salty the are. Soaking a few hours might still be required.

Preparation:

Soak salt cod for 24 hours in cold water which should be changed every 4-6 hours, before preparing the dish. Nowadays codfish is less salty but once in a while, you may come across the old-fashioned very salty ones. Then you need to desalt for at least 48 hours.

After desalting, place 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.

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