Like Turkey is for Thanksgiving, Bacalhau is what Angolans (and Portuguese) eat for Christmas or any other important events. Mind you, not the fresh cod fish version. But the salted and dried version. One cannot miss seeing bacalhau on the menu when one attends weddings. Bacalhau à Brás (Cod a la Bras), Bacalhau com natas (Cod with cream) or Bolinhos de bacalhau (Cod balls) are probably the most common ones. But say, if you order Bacalhau grelhado in restaurant, you’ll get a fresh cod fish grilled. So yeah, things can be quite confusing at times.
My favourite Bacalhau dish is a soup, Sopa de Bacalhau, not surprising because I love soup, but H loves Bacalhau com natas. It is salted, dried cod fish with potatoes, onions and bechamel sauce, then baked in the oven. In Portugal, it is said there are 365 ways to prepare bacalhau, one for each day.
So I’m going to introduce the simplest and one of the most well known dishes in the Portuguese/Angolan culinary repertoire. Bacalhau à Brás is created by a person named Brás, who kept a tavern in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighbourhood. I like the dish because of how simple it is, and because the restaurant version is almost always very heavy, very oily, too salty for my liking and sleep-inducing. But first, how do you get the salted, dried cod fish to the dish on the table?
First, soak the salted fish anytime from 24 to 48 hrs. Change the water as often as you can. Cover with a cling wrap if necessary, because it stinks. If you can’t change the water, say every 6-7 hours, soak it longer. To get rid of the salt as much as possible.
Next is to sear the fish. Remove the skin, bones and crumble the flesh. I occasionally use a tweezer to dislodge a particularly stubborn bone. But I read somewhere, the easier method is actually to boil the fish till cooked, then shred. Either way (boiled or not), once shredded, the fish is now ready to be used.
BACALHAU A BRAS
(From Traditional Portuguese Dishes)
200g shredded cod
250 g potato – about 1 large potato, cut into matchsticks
3 eggs, whisked
1.5 medium onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp OO
Oil for frying the potatoes
Black olives, to garnish
Parsley, to garnish
- Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the potatoes until they begin to become golden. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
- In a pan, over medium heat, lightly fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
- When the onion starts to become transparent, add the cod and mix with wooden spoon. Simmer in low heat over a few minutes.
- Add the potatoes and the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Stir carefully until the mixture takes on a creamy texture. Cover the pan if needed.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and black olives. Serve immediately.
Lastly, if you ever visit Portugal, don’t just stay in Lisbon or Porto. You are so close to Fatima, an important city for Catholic pilgrimage, where Mother Mary appeared to three children several times in 1917.