15 April 2011

Bacalhau à Brás

When I first got to Lisbon, I had a hard time getting on the bacalhau love train.  Honestly, I felt convinced that though I might tolerate it someday, I would never love it.

That was before I tasted Bacalhau à Brás.

This is also known as Bacalhau Dourado, or golden bacalhau, and you can easily see how it earns that name.  Legend (a.k.a.Wikipedia) says that the name "à Brás" comes from the tavern owner in Bairro Alto who first concocted this dish many years ago.  Though I doubt he got any royalties from his clever choice to mix together scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and bacalhau, at least he is immortalized on every menu in every restaurant in the country.

Because without a doubt, Bacalhau à Brás is the great comfort food of Portugal.  It also holds the distinction of being the only bacalhau dish to win over the skeptical New York Times food writer who recently toured Lisbon to check out its reputed culinary revolution. If there is such a thing as a "gateway bacalhau", this is it.

It is a breeze to make... at least when you live in Portugal.  What, you don't have shredded and de-salted bacalhau in the frozen section of your supermarket?  Shocking!

Okay, so you may have to shred your own fish, but the good news is that fresh cod works perfectly fine here as well.  And although you may not have the glorious Pála-Pála (since 1972!) potato shards in your local market, you can substitute any potato stix you find in your snack aisle.  A couple cloves of garlic, onions, about a dozen eggs, some olive oil... easy, easy, easy.

Ah, you caught that, I see.  Indeed, friends-- there are 10 full eggs in this dish, which may be the not-so-secret reason it makes top-notch comfort food.  It is most definitely a reason for its beautiful golden color, along with the Portuguese method of long, slow steaming the onions and garlic: refogado.  This technique is common in a lot of dishes here, and it softens and sweetens the onions and garlic so they fairly melt into a paste and blend with the rest of the dish.  It does add about ten minutes to the prep time, but if you want to get the taste of the real deal, don't skip it.

One other trick my father-in-law taught me: mix in just half of the potatoes at first, then save the rest for the very end.  This ensures a lovely crunchy texture in the final dish, which otherwise would be a bit too mushy.

Bacalhau à Brás
serves 4-6

1 pound of salt cod or fresh cod, shredded
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups of potato sticks, divided
10 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tbsp dried parsley)
1 tsp black pepper
black olives to garnish

1. If using fresh cod, salt and pepper the fish, shred it into bite-size pieces, and set aside.  If using saltcod, soak the cod in several changes of cold water for 2-3 days, keeping covered and in the fridge. When ready, drain and shred.

2. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat until the oil is shimmery.  Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes until they look glassy.  Add the garlic and turn the heat to low.  Stir once and then cover and leave on the lowest heat for 8-10 minutes, until the onions and garlic are golden and very soft.

3. Add the bacalhau to the pot, stirring to combine.  Replace the lid and let cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, until fish is cooked through. (For fresh fish, you can cut this time to just 10 minutes)

4. Turn the heat up a bit, to medium low, and add 1/2 of the potatoes. Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the eggs, parsley, and pepper.  Cook, stirring gently, just until the eggs are soft-set.  (Do not overcook the eggs!  This particular dish is very unfortunate when it is too dry.)

5. Add the rest of the potatoes, stir to combine, and remove to a plate.  Top with a crown of black olives, and serve immediately.


  1. Ok, so you have posted on 1 of my favourite comfort foods--I just have to comment. Since I grew up in North America, we didn't have any of the pre-made ingredients. So, my mom would soak and shred the cod and while cooking that, she would fry the potatoes in one of those electric deep fryers. Great post!

  2. Oh my goodness-- THAT is dedication!! Cutting and frying all those matchstick potatoes! Wow. Of course, the real deal, homemade must have been REALLY delicious... a good payoff for the hard work. :)

  3. Wow, simply awesome for someone who's not into the Portuguese cuisine scene :), now your next step is Bacalhau com natas or the delicious creamy codfish dish, hehehe. Sorry, i found out your blog a few weeks ago and thought of dropping a word of cheer. Anyway, Bom trabalho ;)

  4. Thanks for the words of encouragement! I have a couple of other "bacalhaus" already up my sleeve (errr, so to speak) but I will be sure to try bacalhau com natas soon-- just for you!

    ps-- Right back at you, your blog looks cool and I'm glad you said hi.