One of the many things I love about travel is discovering new ingredients and ways to prepare them. Enjoyed salt cod before (mostly in the form of brandade or croquettes, yum and yum), though had never experienced so many preparations of salt cod (bacalhau) until a recent visit to Portugal. I’ve read that Portugal has 365 ways to prepare bacalhau (one for each day of the year). The Portuguese are clearly in love with their bacalhau — and for good reason.
Salt cod came about out of necessity as a preservation means for European fisherman who traveled across the Atlantic to Newfoundland to fish for cod. To prevent the fish from spoiling on their long journey home, they salted the cod after it had been caught. To make salted cod edible, you must soak (desalt) the cod, and, thereafter, briefly poach it until flaky. At this point, you’re ready to use the salt cod in any number of preparations (soups, stews, salads, roasted, fried, etc.).
In particular, there were two preparations of salt cod that I sampled in Portugal that quickly won me over. Whenever I saw either on a menu, I ordered it. And was so very happy.
Bacalhau à Brás — thinly chopped, matchstick-size fried potatoes with shredded bacalhau, onions, and scrambled eggs. Hello, can I just say, muito bom (very good in Portuguese). It’s homey and comforting any time of the day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
Salada de Bacalhau com Grão — a salad of shredded bacalhau, chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs. A bit lighter than bacalhau à brás, but equally delicioso.
Today’s recipe is for Bacalhau à Brás, served with (piri piri chile) hot sauce and black olive crumbs.
There are numerous versions of Bacalhau à Brás out there, but this is how I remember having it in Portugal.
Perfect for brunch on a lazy, chilly Sunday….
It’s so much fun to come home from a trip and unwrap all your little finds/treasures — hand-painted rooster and little ceramic fish (see below).
I bought the salt cod at Titan Foods (a quality, bustling Greek market) in Astoria, Queens. You can also find salt cod at Whole Foods, fish shops, and Italian markets.
Once it’s soaked and poached, salt cod is fairly mild in flavor, though has a chewier texture than its fresh counterpart.
While none of the versions of Bacalhau à Brás I ordered in Portugal included black olives, many of the recipes I’ve seen online call for them. Decided to go a slightly different route with the olives.
This is not coffee. These are black olives that I dehydrated and then ground to a powder. For lack of a better term, I’m calling the powder black olive crumbs. I sprinkled the crumbs over the finished dish. The olive crumbs are decidedly sharp, salty, and briny — a perfect foil for the eggs and potatoes.
Salt Cod with Potatoes, Onions, Eggs, and Black Olive Crumbs
, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Freshly chopped parsley for garnish
*Black olive crumbs for garnish (optional); see note below
**Piri piri hot sauce; see note below
Rinse the salt cod and place it in a large bowl (cut mine into a few pieces to fit in a bowl). Add cold water to cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours, changing the water several times during that period (thicker pieces of salt cod may require a longer soaking time).
The next day, drain the fish and transfer to a large pot. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer until the fish flakes easily, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, flake the fish (I like larger chunks), be certain to remove the skin and any bones.
Heat a 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy, large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes in batches (adding more oil as needed), lightly salt, and saute until crisp and golden, about 7 minutes per batch. Place the potatoes on paper towels to drain any excess oil.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent and lightly golden (but not browned), about 10-15 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the flaked fish and 3/4 of the crispy potatoes. Whisk the eggs and add to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring the eggs until they are softly set.
Transfer to plates/shallow bowls and garnish with the remaining crispy potatoes (I re-crisped the potatoes before serving), parsley, and black olive crumbs. Serve with a dash of (piri piri) hot sauce, if you so desire.
*Black olive crumbs: I used pitted black olives. I halved the olives and dehydrated them until mostly dry, overnight and a good part of the next day. Then, I ground up the dehydrated olives in a spice blender.
**Piri piri hot sauce: In Portugal, piri piri hot sauce is often just piri piri (aka bird’s eye) chiles in brandy that has been infusing for several months.