I consider myself Portuguese. Not by blood, but by upbringing. My stepmom is Portuguese by heritage, and over the years, I have been to many festas (meaning feast), enjoyed many meals, and on occasion had one too many glasses of home-brewed Portuguese wine. But have I ever learned to cook a true Portuguese meal? Not until this week.
One of my favourite Portuguese meals is bacalao a gomes de sa, or salt cod with onion, potatoes, and onion, smothered in olive oil. It is a traditional coastal dish, with rustic origins. And my gosh, is it good!
This is how Rita (my talented Portuguese guru) taught me to make it:
- 2 packages of salt cod (about 6 filets) – you can get this from your local fishmonger in the frozen section (be sure to get the kind with the bones removed)
- 5 potatoes, peeled
- PLENTY of olive oil, and use the good stuff
- 2.5 sweet onions, chopped finely
- 6 cloves of garlic, plus 2 to boil with the potatoes
- one red chile, to boil with the potatoes
- 4-6 hard boiled eggs, sliced
- 10-15 black olives, pitted and sliced in half (length-wise)
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon red pepper paste (massa de pimentão) – don’t forgo this! It is supposedly the secret ingredient!
- sea salt (to taste)
- black pepper (to taste)
- paprika (to taste)
Soak the cod for 24 hours, changing the water 3 times. Drain the water, and boil the fish in new water for 15 minutes, drain, and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (or 180 C).
Boil the peeled potatoes with the red chile and 2 cloves of garlic. Drain, and set aside to cool. Slice into quarter inch slices. Add the garlic to the mixture below.
Meanwhile, saute the onions in olive oil with 1 teaspoon of red pepper paste. When the onions start to turn golden, add the garlic. When the garlic is just about ready, add 1 tablespoon of the chopped fresh parsley.
Using a casserole dish, coat the bottom with olive oil. Layer half of the potato medallions, then cover with half the salt cod (flaked into approximately square inch pieces), then half the onion mix, then 1 tablespoon fresh parsley. Pour on some more olive oil, and a bit of S&P. Repeat with a second layer of everything. To the top, add the sliced olives. Bake in the oven for about 30 mins (around the time with the onions on top start to get a bit crispy).
While the casserole is in the oven, boil the eggs. Once out of the oven, garnish with the sliced hard boiled eggs (we added more after the picture was taken), sprinkle with paprika and the final tablespoon of parsley, and drizzle with a bit more olive oil (you can never have too much!). When served, you can also squeeze a bit of lemon on top, if you prefer. Most importantly, bom apetite!
This was my first Portuguese dish I have learned to make, but it will certainly not be the last! Next, I’m hoping to learn how to make sardinhas (grilled sardines) and polvo (stewed octopus).Then perhaps some paprika chicken and kale soup!
How has your heritage influenced the way you cook and eat? What is your favourite ethnic-inspired dish?