Brilliant Bacalhau

So, you’ve eaten your dinner, you find yourself getting a drink in an amazing fish restaurant in Portugal. What to do next? Well, when greeted with a delicious-looking treat you’ve never had before, the answer is obvious. Have a second dinner.

On a recent trip to Lisbon, I found myself taking an evening jaunt across the River Tagus to the area of Cacilhas – sold to me and my friends as the place to get a great fish dinner. My partners-in-crime and I had already scoffed our own dinner so we decided we would just enjoy the ambience and the wine. We struggled to find a bar amid the plethora of restaurants serving freshly-caught fish, but found one that was happy to let us guzzle vino and nibble on olives as we proclaimed we were far too full to eat a meal.

Famous last words.

We resisted the fresh lobsters roaming around the tank, we resisted sights of seafood platters emerging to hungry diners ready to tackle their crustacean creations. What we couldn’t resist was the huge platter of fish, potato and onion-y mess that arrived at the next table.

Now I’m quite a food fan (as we know) – quite a fish fan at that – and was surprised at the sudden salivation that an innocuous pile of food could elicit. Thanks to our new friends next door, we discovered it was the traditional Portuguese fish dish Bacalhau com broa. Basically, a deliciously tasty, messy, yet gorgeous mixture of salt cod, smashed up roast potatoes, cornbread crumbs, with some onions, maybe peppers, and olives thrown in.

Bacalhau itself is actually a Portuguese dish made of dried and salted cod. There are apparently thought to be over 1,000 different Bacalhau dishes in Portugal, but it’s also eaten in Galicia in Spain as well as former Portuguese colonies like Cape Verde, Angola, Macau, Brazil and Goa. The Portuguese eat it on social occasions, and in some places it’s part of a traditional Christmas dinner.

For Bacalhau, and indeed Bacalhau com Broa, it’s a recipe that takes some commitment – the bacalhau needs soaking for 24 hours before you even start cooking, with several water changed. Then it’s simmered in milk, with red onions, bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns. Potatoes and peppers are roasted with olive oil and salt, while the onion is slices and fried until it’s perfectly caramelised. Finally, cornbread is crumbled and mixed with garlic, parsley and egg yolks. The fish is then taken out of the milk, skin and bones taken out, and broken into chunks, while the potatoes are smashed up. Then the whole lot is layered on a baking dish, with the onions and breadcrumbs on top, before it’s drizzled with olive oil and pepper, and the olives scattered on top, then baked for about half an hour.

And there you have it – a tasty mess of fish, potato and onions that makes the perfect sociable feast for any occasion.

Pretty good as a second dinner too!