Because salt cod and I have a bit of a contentious relationship, I kind of assumed that I would have a hard time eating in Portugal because bacalhau (the portuguese word for salt cod) seems to be in every dish they make. It is said that there are over 1000 traditional Portuguese bacalhau recipes and I believe that might be an understatement. You can have it in stews, in fritters, in cakes, deep fried, grilled or braised. It's almost always cooked or served with potatoes, as is everything else there to be honest, and despite my initial feelings of distaste for this noble beast , I was certainly willing to try it before announcing that I still hated it. I am nothing if not opened minded.
Bacalhau is to Portuguese cuisine what tomatoes are to Italian, despite the fact that they have to import it from Newfoundland, Norway or Iceland because cod is not native to their waters. Oddly enough, it's also the one fish that they never eat in it's fresh state. Once an inexpensive kitchen staple, cod is no longer cheap due to the collapse of the cod stocks due to massive over fishing and the dismantling of the Portuguese bacalhoeiro fleet and I was told the prices really get jacked up during the Christmas and Easter since most of the traditional dishes during those holidays depend on bacalhau.
|one of the zillion pasteis de bacalhau we ate in Portugal|
The Kid nodded yes, held up two fingers and the man slid two of them onto a plate for him. I don't speak Portuguese but I know what bacalhau means. He took a big bite, his face lit up and he popped the rest right into his mouth so I grabbed the second one to try to taste while I could. Expecting to want to spit my little bite out, I was shocked to discover that it was really good.
Maybe it's just that my palate has matured, maybe it's the way it's prepared but this salt cod cake was delicious. Pasteis de Bacalhau immediately became our go to snack food to keep us going throughout the day. We generally skipped any sort of big lunch when we were out and about but would pop into any sort of cafe or restaurant that looked lively for an espresso and a cod cake, and move along. In ten days we only had one that tasted oily and kind of terrible but it was also at the only restaurant where all of the food was oily and terrible, so I am not going to blame the poor cod that died for nothing.
Of course, because I am me, I did make some changes, which I think are welcome changes. Sweet potatoes give it a richer flavour and the lemon zest brightens up what can be a bit of a heavy snack. The port just made me happy because port always makes me happy.
Pasteis de Bacalhau Yum Style
Ingredients:approx 1 lb dried salt cod (you can get this at any asian, jamaican or portuguese market)
2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
2 medium potatoes
1 large sweet potato
1 sweet onion (I used a vidalia)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 big handful cilantro, finely chopped
3 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbls port
freshly ground black pepper
veg oil for frying
|grinding, mixing, forming and frying|
Directions:to soak the salt cod, try to choose thick pieces. Put them in a vessel, cover them with cold water and soak them from 12 to 24 hrs. I put them in the fridge around 6pm, changed the water before bed and returned them to the fridge for overnight. In the morning, changed the water again and let them sit for another hour and kept changing the water every hour a few more times. When you can remove a piece and press your finger into it and taste and the salt is now at a reasonable level, it is ready to use.
Drain the cod and put it in a deep pan or pot, pour in the milk and add enough water to cover by about an inch, add a bay leaf and simmer for about 20 minutes.
While the fish is cooking, steam the potatoes and sweet potatoes until soft, peel and set aside.
Drain, rinse it well and then to dry it, press the fish between some paper towel or in a clean kitchen towel. Remove the skin and bones and remove all the flesh into a big bowl. You can either flake it up by hand or put it in a food processor and give it a couple of pulses to grind it up well - don't puree to a paste, just a couple pulses to grind.
Return the cod to the bowl, put the potatoes through a ricer or mash them well and add those as well. Grate the onion in there, add the minced garlic, cilantro and the lemon zest and mix well. Now, start beating the egg in, one at a time, with a wooden spoon. Add a tbls of port and a few grinds of black pepper with the final egg and give it a final good beating with your wooden spoon, taste and make sure it's well seasoned. It should be salty enough from the cod but you should check to make sure.
You can either use slightly damp hands or two spoons to shape the cod batter into quenelle shapes (like little footballs). You can cover them and refrigerate them up in a covered container to 24 hours before cooking them if you want or even freeze them and deep fry from frozen)
Heat a couple of inches of veg oil to 375F and start to fry them, a few at a time, turning a few times, until they are nicely browned. Try to keep the oil between 350 and 375F so that the cakes get nice and crispy. Remove the cooked pieces to paper towel to drain and continue until they are all cooked.
They can be served hot, room temp or reheated for ten minutes in a 375F oven.
|reheated, a great side for breakfast|