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