Try as I may, I just can’t understand the Portuguese passion for Bacalhau. Why is it so popular when there’s such a wonderful selection of fresh fish readily available and far cheaper?
It’s as stiff as a board, smells disgusting and looks about as appetizing as the prospect of munching on chipboard. In fact, it’s so hard it has to be cut into pieces using a band saw when you buy it! Bacalhau, also has to be soaked for about 3-4 days, (changing the water twice a day) to remove the salt, before it can be cooked. So much effort so what is the reward? Piglet is on a mission to discover the answer…
For the uninitiated, Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for dried and salted codfish (Bacalhau fresco is unsalted cod)
Bacalhau is as ingrained in the Portuguese food culture as Fish and Chips is to the English, Frogs Legs to the French, Curry to the Indians and Haggis to the Scots. It’s so popular I even found a recipe book “1000 Bacalhau Recipes” displayed in the supermarket.
A THOUSAND RECIPES the mind boggles!
I have previously tried to cook it myself, but to be honest it was so salty that we had to consume vast quantities of water for the next 48hrs to “rehydrate”! I think in all honesty I did not soak it long enough so maybe I ought to at least give it another shot.
Historically, the Portuguese started fishing for cod in the waters of Newfoundland shortly after Columbus discovered America. The cod-fish were processed and salted on the boats to preserve them until they returned to Portugal. Only then, were the fish dried in the sun and sold, either to the locals or passing ships for use on their long voyages. The nickname of bacalhau is ‘fiel amigo’ (faithful friend).
So why is Bacalhau so popular?
One of the reasons why Bacalhau became so popular, over the centuries to become a staple of the Portuguese diet, was due to the fact that Portugal, as a Catholic country, were influenced by the church who forbade the eating of meat on religious days. Bacalhau was readily available and therefore eaten instead.
I have also discovered that if the prospect of soaking fish for days on end does not appeal to me (which it does not) I can buy pre-soaked Bachalau which is called “Riberalves” . In fairness, before I dismiss Bacalhau from our diet altogether I should at least experiment further and try a couple of recipes.
A few tips on buying Bacalhau from a Portuguese friend.
Especial and Graúdo refer to category/size of the fish, not the pieces
– Especial is high quality, big and expensive
– Graúdo is big. Miúdo refers to the small ones.
Asa branca – usually also expensive – is whiter and, according to a relative, better, but a colleague whose parents sold bacalhau said that was a myth and that it is whiter simply because the skin has been taken off.
Noruega – Bacalhau from off the coast of Norway and is generally considered the best.
Lombo/meio – the best cuts of the fish
Barbatanas – the fins (quite thin)
Tip: the tail of real bacalhau is V-shaped. Don’t be fooled.
My next quest is to find some delicious recipes – any suggestions please?
Bacalhau recipes I have tried: