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the bacalhau conversion

Posting about bacalhau on your Portugal blog1 is about as original a subject as beaches of the Algarve. It’s lame. It’s beginner’s guide. But I’m not going to tell you how great cod is, I’m not going to write about how we should stop eating this vulnerable fish, nor attempt to explain the Portuguese obsession with it. Except to say, in case you don’t know, bacalhau is an fundamental ingredient of the Portuguese condition.


Bacalhau is not fish, my friend Isabel says. It’s altogether another food group.

And because this dried cod beast is so in your face – stinking out the supermarket, on every single restaurant menu, huge flanks of it at the Saturday market, plain boiled, served with cabbage and put in front of you to eat at Christmas – it rather polarises people.

The One hates bacalhau.


But I don’t mind it. I like how you can use it as kitchen decoration for a month while working up an appetite for it.

So I decided to see if I could change The One‘s mind. He has a few food foibles that he carries with him from childhood, as you do, but if I ignore his claims against aubergine (for example) and do something tasty and discreet he scoffs it down like he never really knew what an aubergine was.

A riskier mission with bacalhau. It looks like a big flaky white fish. It tastes like a big salty flaky white fish.

Plan One. I’ll call it fish and chips! His favourite!


Comments? “I hate Bacalhau”.

Result? Fail.

So in the next recipe I disguised it better. Shredded, mixed in a bowl with mash potato, rice, lemon, garlic & herbs, and then rolled into balls and fried. Fish cakes, we call them. But more like arancini than patansicas.


Comments? “Salty. Have they got bacalhau in them?”

Result? Fail.

Next I went for a radical cultural departure and made a Thai style soup. A tom yam soup base, with red chillies, lemongrass, lime and coriander, then loads of garlic, shredded carrot & red pepper, onion, chunks of fish, vermicelli noodles, bean shoots and topped with sliced cabbage.


Comment? “I like the soup, as always. But the fish totally spoils it.”

Result? Fail.

Perhaps bacalhau shouldn’t be used out of context then? Maybe the Portuguese like it so much because they’ve mastered it? Fancy that?

My friend Eric spontaneously announced his latest favourite weekly staple – bacalhau a bras! I’d heard of this thing but never known what it was, and by Eric’s reckoning, it’s an easy, yummy, one pan meal that a bloke would like. A couple of days of fish soaking later and I’m onto it.

Make French fries, as thin as you can, and violently deep fry them while trying to keep them from turning into hash cakes. Drain most of the oil from the pan and throw in onion and garlic and chunks or shreds of fish – however boneless – then beat up some eggs with cream, pepper and parsley, turn down the heat and throw them in the pan, followed by half of the fries. Turn it over once or twice then dish it up with more fries, some lemon wedges and, if you have an English husband to convince, one with a dubious culinary history, a splodge of tomato sauce on the side.


Comments: “Mmmmm this is goooood!”

I wait until he has cleaned the plate before telling him about the bacalhau element.

“I liked it anyway.”

“So it’s a pass?”

“Is there any more?”

Result? Pass!

Yay… it can be done! I decide I should cement this victory with another attempt. This time I go back to the English (where I started and failed) and select a recipe from Jamie Oliver.

It’s just a simple pan fried fillet in butter, with garlic, capers, coriander, parsley and dill.


Comment? “Yum. You can do that again.”

“It was bacalhau”.

“I know. It’s ok. I like it like that.”

Result? Converted!


The Bacalhau Chronicles is completely exempt from these comments. This is a blog only about bacalhau. And that makes it ok 🙂






  1. Ben August 21, 2012 11:23 pm Reply

    We love bacalhau a bras too, something of a comfort food in our house and good with piri piri.

    We have a local “pronto a comer” that does such a good one that we don’t make it ourselves. It should have a few black olives in amongst it and it works surprisingly well with a dollop of piri piri.

    Did you shred the spuds yourself? I think a lot of people use those thin potato chip you get down the crisps aisle of the supermarket.

    Best wishes,


    PS. Is blogging about Algarve beaches really that lame?! 😉

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 22nd, 2012 at 10:07 am

    that’s right about the olives. But he doesnt like olives either. That’ll be another post… and beaches aren’t lame when you write about them 🙂

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  2. HelenGray August 22, 2012 12:23 am Reply

    I’m coming to your house for supper.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 22nd, 2012 at 10:04 am


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  3. Neal marques August 22, 2012 12:44 am Reply

    You should have started with bacalhau com natas. And for the last de salting rinse, try using milk.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 22nd, 2012 at 10:10 am

    we dont have an oven yet :-/ but I wanted. Good tip about the milk. I could’ve mentioned the soaking and how it’s the saltines that puts people off but… that’s where things get boring…

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  4. Melanie August 22, 2012 1:48 am Reply

    Where can I find these recipes??

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  5. Sami Veloso August 22, 2012 1:59 am Reply

    I was going to suggest “Bacalhau com natas” mas someone beat me to it! What about “Pasteis de Bacalhau” ? I tried the frozen ones from LIDL when I was last in Portugal and they were fantastic (fry them of course), which beats making them as they take a long time.

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  6. spownall August 22, 2012 5:06 am Reply

    Is there bacalhau in this article? x

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 22nd, 2012 at 10:12 am

    more tomato sauce? xx

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  7. Maria Silva August 22, 2012 9:56 am Reply

    …Congratulations Emma, you converted him!! There are, as you probably know by now, more than a 1000 recipes for ‘bacalhau’!!
    It’s our traditional dish and I love it ! You should have served him ‘bacalhau a bras’, the One would have loved it !! Keep smiling ! 🙂

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  8. Ana Pedrosa August 23, 2012 1:32 am Reply

    A lady of many talents, an excellent writer and chef.

    I wonder if there is something of an acquired taste to Cod. My mum used to tell me that there is a saying a good Portuguese wife knows at least 100 ways to cook Bacalhau.

    My understanding is that the fishing controls, at least off the Canadian coast, have been successful and the number of cod are increasing – let’s hope this is true and that they keep the controls in place.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 23rd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    thank you ana!

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  9. Nathan Nelson August 27, 2012 5:59 pm Reply

    Bless you Emma! Your blog is one of very few remaining connections I have to a land I love, a “nação valente e imortal.” However, I’m like the pre-convert version of your husband, just reading the B word makes me nauseous.

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  10. Chuck Tejeleiro August 30, 2013 7:14 am Reply

    Great… Now i’m hungry for bacalhau à Brás and i’m stuck in northern Germany for another 3 weeks!

    Love how you converted you “One” , i kinda pulled of the same with my NL wife that didn’t eat/like any kind of fish at all… Untill she met me that is.


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