Portuguese fisherman were always a gutsy lot and like their ancestors, feared little or nothing.Columbus had only just discovered America when the Portuguese braved the waters of Newfoundlandto catch bacalhau (cod) and other fish. They caught their fish, processed them and salted them right there on their boats and they remained on the coasts ofCanada as long as it took them to fill the boats. Only after their return to Portugal were the fish dried in the sun and sold, not only to the locals, but to any passing ships for use on the long voyages. Nothing much has changed when it comes to fishing and the
Portuguese ships still leave the harbours to catch the cod and don’t come back until it’s processed. However, a large amount of the bacalhau eaten in Portugal today is imported from Scandinavia, England and Canada. The fish is usually sold whole but can be divided into a variety of categories, like
- Especial – the biggest and best pieces that can weigh up to 5kgs;
- Graúdo – a thinner piece;
- Lombo (or meio) – these are the most wanted pieces because they are cut from the middle and are fat and delicious;
- Barbatanas – the fins;
BACALHAU COM NATAS
- 500 g salted cod (preferably the lombo)
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon piri piri (ground)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- Extra Virgin Olive oil for frying
- Bechamel sauce
- 700 g potatoes
- 250 ml fresh cream
- 2 heaped tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
- Butter to dot
- 4 tablespoons wine
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Pre heat oven to 200 C
- Rinse the fish and then put into a large bowl and soak, changing the water for two days (please check with the fishmonger to see how long you need to soak that particular piece of fish).
- Drain the bacalhau and flake into large pieces, discarding the bones and the skin.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the fish and boil it for 2 minutes, if it is still repulsively salty, boil a little longer and then remove from the stove and drain well.
- Fry the onions in about 60ml olive oil until they are golden and then add the piri piri, bay leaves, ground pepper and wine and simmer for another 5 minutes and then mix the fish into the onions and remove the bay leaves.
- Check and correct seasoning and set aside.
- Make the béchamel sauce.
- Cut the potatoes into long thin chips and fry in the olive oil, put on absorbent paper, salt to taste and set aside.
- Spoon half of the bacalhau and onion mixture onto the bottom of an oven dish, cover with potato chips and repeat the layers again.
- Pour the béchamel over the top and smooth with a hot spoon to cover, make sure that the top is completely covered with the béchamel.
- Pour the cream over the top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
- Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until the breadcrumbs are light brown golden and the béchamel is hot (if it bubbles a little, it is hot).
- Cool and serve with a bottle of Terra Franca Rosé, it’s dry and fruity and crisp and I think it’s just perfect for this quite substantial comfort dish.