Portuguese Salt Cod Stew (Bacalao or Bacalhoada)

Traditional bacalhoada or bacalao, a Portuguese salt cod stew made with salt cod, potatoes, onions, hard boiled eggs, olives, and lots of olive oil.

  • Prep time: 1 day
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8


  • 1 pound salt cod fillets, preferably skinless and boneless
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Milk (optional)
  • 2 large yellow or sweet Vidalia onions, sliced
  • 2 pounds waxy potatoes (Yukon gold work great), peeled
  • 4 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


1 Soak 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.

bacalao salt cod for bacalhoada portuguese stew bacalao salt cod soaking in 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.

2 Simmer 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.

3 Parboil 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.

4 Layer casserole with onions, potatoes, salt cod, olive oil, pepper, then top with hard boiled eggs and olives: In a large pyrex casserole or Dutch oven (use Dutch oven if making on stove-top), generously coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Place a layer of onion rings over the bottom of the pan.

Place a layer of sliced potatoes over the onions.

layer bacalao stew casserole with onions layer portuguese bacalhoada salt cod stew with potatoes

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 on to the fish as you place the layers down.

Generously pour some olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper.

layer bacaloa in the portuguese salt cod stew top bacalao stew with eggs and olives

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.

5 Cook on stovetop or bake: Place on stove top on medium heat, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Or heat an oven to 350°F and cook, covered, for 30-40 minutes, or until everything is completely through.

Serve with sides of rice and salad.

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  • Duarte

    That’s not the recipe my very portuguese mother made. The real recipe includes sliced tomatoes and absolutely NO milk or eggs. This must be a Brazilian version, not the real one.

  • Elizabeth Troake

    Can this be frozen?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Elizabeth! No, I don’t think this one would freeze very well, mostly because of the hard boiled eggs. You could try freezing without the hardboiled eggs, though the potatoes might be a bit mushy upon thawing and reheating. Hope that helps!

  • Anna

    Really nice and comforting. Subtle flavours except for the olives, but I love it and so does our 2 year old. A new family favourite!


  • Robin

    There doesn’t seem to be any liquid in it. It doesn’t dry out on stovetop?

  • Steve

    I’m from fall riVer mass and grew up eating this absolutely love balcahau this was a pretty good recipe

  • Nick

    This is an excellent stew. I was apprehensive at first since I generally shy away from fish in soups or stews (I also have yet to try a fish taco). But I tried it and loved it. It’s very rich and delicious and really brings me back to my time spent in Spain (and Portugal). You must give this a try!


  • TSH

    Great recipe! Instead of plain black olives, I substituted quality garlic stuffed green olives along with 5 tablespoons of a coarse chopped green and black olive tapenade made with olive oil and red crushed peppers. I soaked the salted cod until salt taste was gone…the tapenade replaced the needed salt. Keep posting great recipes! Do you have any recipes for spoon bread?

    Not yet but that’s a great idea, thank you! Thanks for the feedback on the recipe too. ~Elise

  • Micas

    There are 365 ways to serve bacalhau.
    This bacalhoada is one of my favorites.
    But don’t add rice, you aleady have the potatoes.
    You can add some shreaded cabbage or broad leafy kale.
    “Bacalhau com todos” is the traditional Christmas eve dish in Portugal.

  • Betsy

    I was given a very similar recipe recently, and, unable to find salt cod, I made it with fresh. I boiled the fresh cod in salted water for just a few minutes and used the fish water for the potatoes. It was wonderfully delicious.

  • Anna

    I made this last night and it turned out quite well. I was expecting my family to turn up their noses, but I was pleasantly surprised when they ate it without question and had seconds.

    My husband (who grew up in England, but also has Norwegian roots) really liked the combination and thought it was one of the best uses for salt cod he’d experienced. I finally had to remove the casserole from the table because he kept taking another morsel every so often.

    I bought Bos’n brand boned salt cod in the little pine box, 1 lb encrusted with salt and wrapped in a piece of paper in the box, about $8-9. After viewing a YouTube video of a Brazilian making this dish, I didn’t spare the olive oil, either. I used at least a cup, probably more.

    My 11 yo old son, who seems to be going back into a slightly picky stage, was unexpectedly ok with it, as the dreaded onions were easy to set aside, and he likes both fish and hard boiled eggs.

    Now for my major change – I didn’t use potatoes. I know it would have received even more favor if I had, but I can’t eat potatoes because more than a very small amount sends my blood glucose through the roof, then crashing later. And I love potatoes and find a small portion just too frustrating. So I used turnip slices. I didn’t have any of the nice fresh turnips from my CSA produce box (a farm subscription program) so I had to buy them at the Vons supermarket and I suspect they were a bit long in the tooth. I also probably parboiled them a bit too long, but they were ok.

    I think next time I make this, instead of using turnips, I’ll use fairly large cauliflower florets and I won’t parboil them first. I think that will work. Or maybe I’ll divide it into two smaller casseroles and use parboiled cauliflower in one and raw cauliflower in the other and see which one is better after baking.

  • Anna

    I’ve got one of those wooden boxes of salt cod in the back of my fridge, waiting for just the right recipe. This might be it, though I’ll go very easy on the potatoes because of my blood glucose.

    I found the salt cod at Henry’s Marketplace, a San Diego branch of Wild Oats food stores for $8.99. It was located in the cooler section with bacon and kielbasa smoked sausage.

  • Ninette Grace Bird

    I am from the Caribbean Island Of St. kitts and we cook Salt Fish as a traditional dish for Sunday Breakfast. The way we do it is to soak the Salt Fish overt night , then drain off and add fresh water and bring the fish to a semi boil , again draining the water off.We may do that at least two times before actually boiling the fish for about 20mins. After which we debone and also remove the skin as that also removes the scales. We then break it into pieces and set a side. The next step is to cut up onions, garlic , tomatoes and a nice piece of hot peper and yes green sweet pepper . We saute that in cooking oil, which can be for the ones like me olive oil. When the vegetables are wilted I add fresh tyme leaves and chopped green onions which we call herbs.. once its wilted and cooked down you then add in the salt fish and a bit of either water or wine or both , let simmer a bit then salt to taste. some times we will as a package of a seasoning called Sazon, it has a red coloring to it .
    This dish is ten served with a great salad . Oh , I almost forgot some folks added a few hard boiled eggs ,I some times add a small diced eggplant to the vegetables when cooking before adding the fish . either way its a great dish. This is one of the many uses we do with Salt Fish , but its the traditional .and also has been adopted as our national dish . You can google the island naame for more information on our heritage and culture .

    Ninette Grace Bird a Kittitian from St. Kitts who spends time between California and her home land of her birth… which is also known as Sugar City…I will leave that for a history lesson as to the name.

    Thank Ninette for sharing your approach to salt cod! ~Elise

  • Josh

    I was unaware of any dish that included salted cod. With the advent of telvision celebrity chef’s and travel food shows for foodies I’ve been hooked on Bourdain and Zimmern. Through their shows I was introduced to bacalhau and have looked forward to trying it myself.

    Last week while wandering through Safeway I found salted cod in 1 lb. packages, and I added one to my cart. Over this past weekend I made bacalhoada for my family. Prior to making it my family and friends were leary, even myself. The name itself isn’t inspiring, the appearance is deceiving. Ultimately when the dinner was done we dished up our bacalhoada over a bed of rice. With little enthusiasm we nervously took a nibble. Table wide the mood shifted dramatically. After our first tentative bite we then ate with gusto. This dish was an incredible delight and will be made again for others to indulge in.

    As my wife and I talked about the dish we agreed that it spoke to us on a spiritual level. Growing up in Alaska we are accustomed to our comfort food, of which include roasted salmon and fried potatos with onions. This bacalhoada had the same oniony sweetness, potato starchiness, and richness from the cod and olive oil. The kalamata olives that I had originally fretted over because of their strong flavor had really complimented the dish. Thank you for sharing!

    Thank you for sharing your story, Josh. I’m so glad you liked the dish! ~Elise

  • Sandra

    Elise, I’m portuguese and make portuguese food all the time.

    This dish is SO good, it’s actually like Bacalhau A Gomes de Sa, it looks exactly the same LOL

    I agree though, the salt cod is hard to find here in the states, I usually have my family send me a package with it. But it’s found everywhere in portugal and south africa.

    Thanks for the recipe, love seeing portuguese food being appreciated by others :)

  • Tonya

    I made this Sunday night for my boyfriend. Being Japanese-Irish, he had a hard time wrapping his brain around the combo of fish, eggs and olives. But his suspicions were quickly set aside when I served him a bowl of this stew with a side of crusty bread. He was so impressed that he ate leftovers for lunch the next day. As for me, it was exactly as I remembered it from my childhood. Thanks for taking me back in time!

  • che

    Elise: I am from the West Indies and we used to eat salt cod almost as much as the Portuguese do. Historically it was imported as cheap protein for slaves and indentured servants and became part of our traditional cuisine. We have a salt cod (salt fish) stew made by sauteeing prepared salt cod,tomato, tomato paste, lots of onion,garlic, green seasoning paste and sweet pepper. Add a cup or two of water bring to a boil and leave to simmer until the tomatoes and peppers are very soft.

    I plan to try the Portuguese version, however. I am intrigued by the combination of egg and fish. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Hank Shaw

    If you live anywhere in California’s Central Valley you can find baccala in regular supermarkets. It tends to come in wooden boxes and is hidden in the freezer cases with the rest of the frozen fish. I used to buy it at the local Albertson’s in Orangevale, and I have seen it in crappy supermarkets in places like Merced and Yuba City. Why? LOTS of Azoreans here. Like Andre in the previous comment, baccala brandade (codfish balls) is my favorite preparation. Don’t feel like making them? Go to Spataro’s in downtown Sacramento, where they are a popular item on their happy hour menu!

  • André Lamelas

    As a portuguese cooking lover I was delighted to see a portuguese style codfish recipe in your blog (which I love to read, btw).
    In Portugal codfish grows from the trees (almost) and you can find it everywhere. It’s strange for me to conceive a world where codfish is hard to find.
    As someone said up there, we cook it in HUNDREDS of different ways and just let me suggest two ways you should look for:
    – bolinhos de bacalhau, which i would translate as… codfish cupcakes. They’re like small, fried balls of codfish, potatoes and some spices. We eat them as appetizer.
    – bacalhau com natas, which is codfish with cream and it’s a delightful combination. You cook the codfish in milk, you add some cream, you put it to the oven… hum…
    And as a tip on portuguese cuisine I would recomend something that doesn’t have codfish but it’s delicious nevertheless. It’s called Francesinha (“small french girl” if you translate it literally) and… find out for yourself. :p

    Oh my, now you’ve got me wanting to go Portugal, just for the cod fish! And that Francesinha sounds fabulous, like a Portuguese version of a croque-monsieur. ~Elise

  • Darren

    Will the average person appreciate this dish or does it require a “sophisticated” palate? My family likes food with flavor but I’m guessing that this would fall under “weird” to them. If I fed this to them blindfolded do you think the flavor and texture would speak for itself?

    Hi Darren, this is essentially a home style stew. Everyone who has tasted it, either the one I made or the one Fernanda made and brought to my house for a party, loved it. That said, the one requirement I think you have to have to like this dish is to like fish. If you like a good tunafish sandwich, you’re there. ~Elise

  • Garrett

    Very delish Elise, personally I would double the olives, but that’s because I just love olives. ;)

    Hi Garrett, actually the amount of olives in this recipe is double the amount that I put in the stew I served you. So, agreed, the dish benefits from lots of olives. :-) ~Elise

  • Christine

    Elise, I love your site! My family is from the Azores where bacalhau is prepared in a hundred different ways. If you enjoy this dish, you should buy, or check out from your library, Portuguese Homestyle Cooking by Ana Patueleia Ortins. It has several really terrific recipes for salt cod as well as many other delicious dishes. Portuguese cooking is not widely known. This is unfortunate because the food is flavorful, healthy and uses widely available ingredients.

  • Dragon

    I grew up in a Portuguese household and it was my job to change the water for the salted cod. This particular dish is one of my favourites and I must admit that I think my dad prepares it the best. :) He would serve this dish along side some kale, sautéed in olive oil and onion. I would soak up the olive oil on my plate with some broa (bread).

  • tlcslp

    Darby and Lydia – a shoutout to you! I’m from good ol’ New Beige (New Bedford, MA), so I hear ya! I can’t wait to try this now that I’m on summer vacation from school…

    Has anyone tried this in a slow cooker?

  • Roberto Thomas

    This is the quintessential Good Friday dish here in Brazil, because of the Portuguese collonization of the country and the Catholic tradition of not eating red meat on this day.
    It is also, I guess, my favorite food (bacalhau or salted cod, not specifically bacalhoada).
    I like to prepare it with the tomatoes and I add strips of bell peppers.
    Ohhhh, and I almost forgot: GARLIC!! You can try it as cloves scattered around the layers, that can be later eaten when found, or putting a whole head, tips cut off, in the middle of the dish, where it will cook in the olive oil… yummmy!!!

    Thanks for the tips on garlic and bell peppers Roberto. Fernanda had also mentioned bell peppers to me, but since they weren’t in the dish that she had prepared, I decided not to use them when I made mine. Seems like this dish is rather flexible on the ingredients. ~Elise

  • mariya

    How would quality salted herring (not canned) work in this?

    I love dried, salted herring. Grew up on the stuff. But I don’t think it will work for this recipe. The flavor is just too strong. But if you do try it, please let us know how it turns out! ~Elise

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I’m so lucky to live near the south coast of Massachusetts and its large Portuguese (mostly Azorean) population. Great markets are everywhere, and salt cod, chourico and other essential ingredients very easy to find. Salt cod will last forever in your pantry, too!