All About Bacalhau, a Portuguese Dish

Bacalhau is a specially dried cod that is of particular importance in Portuguese gastronomy. The fish is caught in the waters of the Norwegian Sea, then cut, salted and dried. The main suppliers to Portugal are Norway and Iceland. Portugal – the number 1 consumer in the world.

Bakalyau was a real revolution in nutrition. By drying and salting fish, people achieved an extremely long shelf life, which allowed them to be transported from fishing areas to Portugal (which took up to 3 months). After all, freezers appeared only in the XX century.

There is evidence that bacalhau was an important part of the national cuisine of Portugal in the 16th century. Before World War II, an average of 7 kg per person was consumed per person throughout the country. In the 50s there was a peak in consumption – in Lisbon, for example, they ate 16.5 kg a year!

Previously, dried cod was an inexpensive and affordable product, which cannot be said in our time – the prices per kg of high-quality dried cod range from € 6 to € 17.

Bakalyau has a unique status in Portuguese cuisine. There is a huge variety of dishes and recipes from dried cod. The Portuguese say that there are 365 recipes – a recipe for every day of the year.

At the same time, even the same dish can be cooked completely differently in different regions of the country. The taste of bacalhau does not look like fresh or fresh-frozen cod. Thus, if you replace the groceries with frozen cod, it will be a completely different dish.

Where to buy Bacalhau?

Anywhere! This is such a popular product that you can even find entire stores that sell only this product for decades. In any large supermarket on the shelves are huge fish dried in salt. In smaller stores, there will definitely be a bacalhau already cut into pieces and packaged.

How to choose your Bacalhau?

You do not need to buy a whole fish, you can ask to cut off the piece you need from it, or you can pick it all up, having previously asked to cut it. In many shops, there are shop windows with already packaged pieces of groceries.

The Portuguese have a long-standing relationship with this fish, so any resident will tell you which piece is suitable for what. Sellers are also well versed in this and will be happy to prompt you. In the shops, you can find complex schemes of cutting fish, but we can distinguish two main parts:

Lombos – pieces from the ridge of fish that are cooked “as is” (grilled, pan or cooked);

Postas – the remaining parts of the fish, such as the sides and tail, which go mainly to the preparation of dishes, such as groceries and brushes (bacalhau à brás) or groceries com natas (bacalhau com natas).

Bacalhau de Natas 

For many years, bacalhau (dried cod) was considered a cheap meal that was always present on the table of poor families. Bacalhau was distributed in Portugal and Brazil, where cod was served in every house on Fridays, holidays and for family celebrations.

After World War II, with food shortages throughout Europe, the price of cod increased and national consumption was severely limited. From this point on, the bachelor became the main dish only on the main Christian holidays: Easter and Christmas.

At Christmas, it was always customary to cook Bacalhau com natas (bacalhau com natas) – cod in a creamy sauce. This tradition has been preserved in our time.

Recipe for Bacalhau com Natas

Ingredients for 4 people:

• 4 pieces of soaked cod (bacalhau demolhado)

• 1 kg of peeled and diced potatoes

• 2 medium onions cut into half rings

• 3 cloves of crushed garlic

• 1 bay leaf

• 125 ml of olive oil

• 40g butter

• 40g flour

• 250 ml of milk

• 250 ml of cream

• Salt to taste

• Nutmeg-to-taste

• Pepper to taste

• A few drops of lemon juice

• Olive oil to grease dishes

• Grated cheese to taste

• Vegetable oil for frying


1. Boil the previously soaked groceries for 5 minutes.

Water should be enough to completely cover the fish, but no more.

After 5 minutes of cooking, put the bacalhau on the plate and let it cool.

2. Save approximately 200 ml of water in which the fish was boiled in order to prepare the bechamel sauce.

After the grocery has cooled, separate the meat from the bones and skins, and “tear” it into shreds.

3. Fry the potatoes (1 kg diced) in hot vegetable oil until golden brown and place on a plate with paper towels so that excess oil is absorbed. You can fry potatoes either in a deep fryer or in a deep frying pan with enough oil.

4. Making the sauce. In a saucepan, melt butter (40 g) over medium heat.

Add flour (40 g) to the oil and mix well until smooth. While stirring, slowly add the remaining cold water (approx. 200 ml), milk (250 ml) and cream (250 ml). When the sauce begins to boil salt, pepper and add the nutmeg and a few drops of lemon juice to taste. Mix well and remove from heat.

5. Pour olive oil (125 ml) into a separate large saucepan and add medium heat to the onion (2 onions cut into half rings), crushed garlic cloves (2 pieces) and bay leaf. Stir and allow to quench.

When the onions begin to become soft and transparent, add the groats, mix well and leave to quench. After a few minutes, remove the bay leaf and add the previously fried potatoes. Add 2/3 of bechamel sauce, mix thoroughly again and remove from heat.

6. Lubricate the baking dish (approximately 20×28 cm) with a small amount of olive oil and place the entire contents of the pan. Spread evenly. Top with the remaining dish of bechamel sauce. 

Finally, sprinkle with grated cheese.

7. Bake in the oven preheated to 220º for 15-20 minutes.

After the time passes, the dish can be removed from the oven. Give the dish a little stand and can be served on the table. If there is a lot of oil on the surface, you can gently blot it with a kitchen paper towel. Do not burn yourself!

The dish goes well with lettuce leaves. Enjoy your meal!

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