The first time I tasted Bacalhau à Brás I spat it out in surprised horror, downed a glass of water and swore at the assault on my taste buds. My tongue reacted in much the same way as that of a slug when you pour neat salt on it. I realise a tongue and slug comparison is an unusual analogy, but bacalhau is extremely salty if it’s not prepared properly.
We were out to lunch with friends this week so when I saw Bacalhau à Brás listed on the menu board, as the “Prato do dia” (dish of the day), I groaned as I related my previous gastronomic experience! However, our friend ordered the bacalhau assuring me it was his favourite and no, it was not salty and no, it could not be used to kill off the slug population in my garden.
All objections overruled.
“Live dangerously” I thought, “Hell, why not?” so fingers firmly crossed, I ordered the Bacalhau à Brás.
I’m so glad I put my previous salt and slug experience behind me and gave the dish another try; on this occasion it was most definitely an “orgasmic foodie” moment. Hmmmm absolutely delicious!
On returning home I immediately trawled the internet for Bacalhau à Brás recipes, but there were so many variations I did not know where to start. Feeling slightly frustrated I enlisted the help of friends and fortunately someone found a simple recipe in their Portuguese cook book. After adapting their recipe to include garlic and a bay leaf (I knew the Bacalhau à Brás I’d eaten had garlic in as Mr Piglet said I smelt of garlic for days). I was now ready to “rock n’ roll” (start). Well, not quite, I still needed Bacalhau (pre-soaked) and something called Batata Palha, onions, garlic etc, etc.
Now on a mission and clutching my shopping list off I went to the local supermarket.
Waiting my turn to be served at the meat counter I dubiously studied the packet of Riberaleves (pre-soaked cod-fish) I’d selected from the freezer section.
Only in Portugal could you enlist the butcher’s help with fish and receive a friendly response. Wehn it was my turn to be served I held up the frozen packet of Riberaleves and tentatively explained I was attempting to cook Bacalhau à Brás. He gave me a wonderful smile, assured me it was “facil” (easy) and immediately engaged the help of another colleague. After a lengthy discussion they triumphantly produced another packet of Riberaleves where the fish was already shredded.
I then asked about the mystery ingredient “batata palha” and a packet of chipsticks (potato straws) from the crisp stand seemed to be the answer.
He could probably see by my surprised expression I was not convinced so nodded his head vigorously while emphasising the point with “bom, muito bom” (good). I’d planned to use normal potatoes, although the challenge how you could chip potatoes that thinly, remained a mystery. Perhaps a packet of cooking chipsticks WAS the answer.
Recipe for Bacalhau à Brás
This recipe is surprisingly easy as it is quick to prepare and cook.
300gr pre-soaked and shredded Bacalhau (Riberaleves)
500gr very finely chipped potatoes (like match sticks) or Batata Palha or Frita Palhini.
1 large onion (finely sliced)
75ml olive oil
3 eggs (whisked)
Small bunch of parsley (chopped)
6 Cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1 bay leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
Garnish: 100g Black olives (remove stones) and parsley
If you are using normal potatoes fry the “chips” lightly in oil, drain and then set aside.
Boil the shredded cod for about 10 minutes (until tender).
Heat olive oil in a stew pan. Add the finely sliced onions, garlic and bay leaf and season with pepper and sparingly with salt. Fry onions until soft and semi caramalised. Once cooked remove bay leaf.
Drain bacalhau and add to stew pan with onions. Mix well. Cover the pan and simmer for 3-4minutes.
Add Frita Palihini and parsley to pan and mix with onions and bacalhau.
Whisk eggs until frothy and add to pan. Season with pepper, and salt if required. Gently mix all the ingredients together until the egg is firm , but not rubbery.
Serve on a tray or indiviual dishes and garnish with the black olives (remove stones) and parsley.
Since cooking this recipe I’ve discovered a slight variation which I want to try:
Intead of boiling the cod, mash and fry gently with the onions and matchstick potatoes.
Any further tips most gratefully received!