Bacalhau a Bras – A Recipe for Portugal’s Premium Comfort Food

When I spent a whole week in Portugal five years ago, I fell in love with Portuguese cuisine.

Bacalhau or salt cod in all its variations is one of the staple foods of local cuisine, much more so than in Spain or, say, Venice, where it also enjoys huge popularity. Bacalhau a Bras is said to be named after Senhor Bras or Braz, the owner of a tavern in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district. He is said to have come up with the recipe many moons ago. It is also sometimes called Bacalhau Dourado, or “golden bacalhau.”

The dish is extremely simple, usually just containing flakes of salt cod, deep fried match-shaped potato crisps, onions, and eggs, garnished with black olives and parsley. While egg dishes might sound to most ears like breakfast dishes, Bacalhau a Bras can be enjoyed as breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight meal after a night out, or as a snack. It’s probably least common to have it for breakfast.

INGREDIENTS

(snack for four persons)

350g salt cod (can be de-salted)                    Sprig of parsley

250g cooked prawns                                            20 black olives

250g deep-fried potato sticks                        Olive oil

2 onions                                                                   Black pepper

10 eggs                                                                      Salt

  

Tips: If there is no Portuguese delicatessen near you, you can also get salt cod at Italian shops (as ‘baccalà’) and Spanish markets (as ‘bacalao’). If all else fails, or simply to save time and effort, you can pan-fry 500 to 600g boneless cod fillet and use that instead of the salt cod.

Try to find cod or salt cod that has been properly deboned. If not sure, check the flakes for bones before adding them into the pan.

Make sure you check if the package says for how long the salt cod should be soaked before eating, or else ask a member of staff at the shop.
You can usually find potato sticks as snacks in the crisps section of many Western supermarkets, no need to pay through the nose for the traditional Portuguese variety.

We add a few squeezed cloves of garlic to nearly all our dishes, but do not list them under ingredients or in the preparation section unless they are part of the core recipe. Feel welcome to add some garlic, too.

 

PREPARATION

  • Unless you managed to buy de-salted salt cod (not quite as traditional as the real thing, but just as fine), you start by rinsing and soaking the salt cod before you start cooking for however long it should be soaked according to the instructions (anything from 15h to 3 days). Use a 3 to 4l tupperware container. Once you have replaced the water a few times, put the sealed container with the salt cod into the fridge. Once half way through and two or three times at the end, rinse and replace the water again. Then let the salt cod rest on its own, without water, at the bottom of the container, ready to be used.
  • Chop the onions into little cubes, the parsley into little bits; slice the olives into halves.
  • Put some olive oil into a heavy frying pan and heat to medium heat, then pan fry the onions while stirring for 2 to 3 mins, before switching the heat to low, covering the pan, and frying for another 10 to 12mins
  • Use your fingers to tear the salt cod into little flakes you add to the onions, fry for another 10 to 15mins at low heat while covered.
  • Add the cooked prawns and half the fried potato sticks and pan fry for another 2mins.
  • Put the 8 eggs into a big bowl, add some salt and pepper, and start using a whisker to whisk them very fast for 1min.
  • Switch the heat to the lowest possible level.
  • Very, very slowly mix in the whisked eggs, trying to avoid that they turn into scrambled eggs, but instead trying to keep them largely in their transparent glue state. The pouring process should be interrupted by sections when only gentle stirring occurs. The whole process should last for about 2 to 3mins.
  • Add the other half of the potato sticks.
  • Put up the heat to lower medium for another 1 to 2mins while stirring. Immediately turn the heat off or down when there are signs of the eggs turning into scrambled eggs.
  • Put into bowls, add parsley and olives; serve hot.

The dish is outrageously easy to make. I absolutely love the taste, proper comfort food, and the tradition behind salt cod. Bacalhau has always had its place close to my heart. It started out as poor people’s food but ended up as the pride of Portugal.

For other food posts, feel welcome to try our write-ups about the NYC food tour, our baking course at Borough Market, London, or our restaurant visit to Lafleur in Frankfurt.

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