The first time my Brazilian friend and fellow food blogger Fernanda mentioned wanting to make a Portuguese salt cod stew (aka Bacalao or Bacalhoada), I was intrigued.
Given how well Fernanda's salmon fish stew had turned out, I was game to try it!
What Is Salt Cod?
Salt cod isn't one of those easily-found-in-the-supermarket items.
For hundreds of years, codfish preserved in salt may have been a food staple in North America and Europe. But with the advances of modern refrigeration in the last century, it's been sort of hard to come by actually, for decades.
Too bad it's so hard to find, as the drying process that preserves salt cod greatly concentrates its flavor.
Names for Salt Cod Stew: Bacalhoada, Bacalhau, and Bacalao
The minute I first tasted Fernanda's bacalhoada, as it is called in Portuguese (or Bacalao in Spanish), I knew I had to make it.
We found the salt cod at a local Italian specialty food market. Fernanda's instructions came with ingredients and method but not quantities. So for the most part, I'm guessing here, based on my memory of the dish and on other bacalhoada and bacalao recipes I've found online.
Most recipes I found have salt cod, potatoes, and onions as a base. Many of the recipes also layered in sliced fresh tomatoes, which would be perfect in the summertime.
I've double-layered this dish in a Dutch oven and cooked it on the stove-top. Most recipes I found used a broad casserole dish, only had one layer of fish, and baked it in the oven. The hard boiled eggs, surprisingly, really work with the flavors of this dish.
Tips for Bacalhoada Salt Cod Stew
- Adjust for salt. If you've changed the soaking water several times, you may end up rinsing away all of the fish's salt. In which case, you'll have to add some back in. Make sure you taste the fish before you layer it in the casserole, so you'll know if and how much salt to add.
- Add plenty of olive oil. It helps to be liberal with the olive oil. If you get the stew on your plate and it tastes a little dry, add more olive oil. The oil is what binds all of the flavors together.
Variations of Salt Cod Stew to Try
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and the varieties of recipes that highlight bacalhau are numerous. Salt cod stew recipes spread throughout the countries colonized by Portugal and throughout Europe, as well, during the time salting and drying cod was the only way you could preserve the fish (long before refrigeration). In the 20th Century, salt cod stew spread to Norway, by way of Spain and Italy.
The well-revered cod itself is an import from Norway. Portuguese fisherman brought the salted fish back from Norwegian waters in the 16th Century.
Some make it with or without tomatoes. Others soak in milk, while others would never let dairy touch their fish. Variations include different types of olives (or none), with or without hard boiled eggs. Some add garlic, others put in shallots.
However you make your salt cod stew, add what you like to match your own tastes.
Looking for a Bacalao Recipe?
The Spanish relative of this Portuguese dish is bacalao. It's similar in that it uses salt cod, onions, potatoes and olives, but also includes tomatoes. The Spanish version was introduced into Norwegian cuisine, and is spelled bakalao in Norwegian.
Here's Marta Rivera’s Bacalao Guisado recipe, which is Puerto Rican and similiar to the Spanish version. It contains tomatoes and is cooked on the stove-top.
How to Store and Reheat Salt Cod Stew
This bacalhoada recipe makes a pretty large pot, so you may have some leftovers to enjoy later. Just cool the stew to room temperature, and you can place the whole covered pot in the refrigerator.
When you're ready to reheat the stew, just transfer the pot to your stove-top and reheat gently over low heat until heated through. Salt cod stew will keep covered in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
What to Serve with Salt Cod Stew
More Cod Recipes to Try
- Bacalao Guisado (Salt Cod Stew)
- Cod Fish Cakes
- Escabeche (Pacific Black Cod)
- Baked Cod with Ritz Cracker Topping
- Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)
Bacalhau (Portuguese Salt Cod Stew)
1 pound salt cod fillets, preferably skinless and boneless
3/4 to 1 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow or sweet Vidalia onions, sliced
2 pounds waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold works great), peeled
4 large eggs, hard boiled and sliced
About 40 pitted black olives (I used Kalamata olives; can also use green olives)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the salt cod in water:
Salt cod typically comes either in dry fillets, already boned and skinned, or it comes whole. The fillets need to be rinsed, then soaked in water, and kept chilled, for 24 hours, with one or two changes of the water.
If you are using a whole fish, not prepared fillets, it needs to be soaked in water for up to 48 hours, also with several changes of water, and the bones and the skin removed and discarded after soaking.
Preheat the oven (optional):
If you plan to bake the bacalhoada, instead of simmering it on the stove, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Simmer the salt cod in milk and/or water:
Put salt cod in a saucepan. Add enough milk, water, or a mixture of milk and water to just cover. Bring mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for a couple minutes. Remove the fish and set aside.
Parboil the potatoes and slice:
Parboil the potatoes for 20 minutes (you can cook them in the water you used to cook the fish if you want). Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
Layer the casserole:
In a large pyrex casserole or Dutch oven (use a Dutch oven if making on a stove-top), generously coat the bottom with olive oil. Place a layer of sliced onions over the bottom of the pan.
Place a layer of sliced potatoes over the onions.
Breaking up the salt cod with your fingers, place pieces of salt cod in a layer over the potatoes. Taste the fish for saltiness. After a day of soaking and further cooking, there should be just a hint of saltiness in the fish. If most of the salt was soaked out of the fish, and the fish doesn't taste at all salty, you may need to sprinkle some salt back onto the fish as you place the layers down.
Generously pour some olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper.
Repeat with another layer of onions, potatoes, fish, olive oil, pepper (and more salt if needed).
Then finish with layers of onions, potatoes, more olive oil, sliced hard boiled eggs, and olives.
Cook on the stovetop or bake:
Place on stovetop on medium heat, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Or bake, covered in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until everything is completely cooked through.
Serve with sides of rice and salad, or some crusty bread.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 33g||43%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||26%|
|Total Carbohydrate 31g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 16mg||81%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|