07 April 2011

Bacalhau à Moliceiro

This is a dish in which bacalhau plays hide and seek.  A bit of masquerading, some clumsy sculpting, AND a story about a Portuguese sea town. This is 138% more fun than you expect from a piece of fish.

The story starts with the "à Moliceiro" part of this recipe.  A moliceiro is a kind of boat, iconic of the northern Portuguese town of Aveiro.  They have big colorful prows featuring humorous paintings of everyday scenes, and-- well, it's easier if you just have a look:

Cute, right?  These days they exploit their traditional art and charm as tourist boats.  Not so cute: their traditional purpose was culling seaweed to be used as manure in neighboring crop fields.

Regardless, I really admire the artistic inclinations of Aveiro's seaweed cullers of yore.  Painting their vessels so elaborately is completely unnecessary, and all the more impressive because of it.  Who was the first seaweed farmer who said, hey guys, let's paint our prows?


Today's bacalhau dish has all of 4 ingredients, simple as can be.  Bacalhau filets, the fatter the better.  Whole garlic cloves which get sweet and soft roasting in the oven.  Thinly-sliced, salty presunto, baked crunchy on top of the steamed fish.  And, of course, a good dose of great olive oil.

Instructions?  Put this stuff in foil.  That's all.

The key to the magic here is in the unnecessary but utterly delightful presentation.

See what I mean? Oven sailing!

Outside of being fun and easy, it is a quick recipe for a weeknight, and remarkably tasty.  The fish keeps all its moisture, trapped as it is in the hull of your foil moliceiro.

To sum up:
Feeling historically inclined and a bit crafty?  THIS is your bacalhau recipe, my friend.

Bacalhau à Moliceiro
from Chefe Silva's Recipes for My Friends
Serves 4

4 thick filets of bacalhau
8-10 skinned whole cloves of garlic
4-6 slices of presunto (or prosciutto), divided into 4 portions
1/4 cup of olive oil, divided

Preheat oven to 325F (160C).  Tear 4 large rectangles of foil.

Take each piece of foil and place a filet in the center. Top the filet with torn pieces of the presunto and 2-3 whole cloves of garlic.  Cup the foil into a slightly bowl-like shape around the fish and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Seal the top of the foil around the bacalhau and curl the ends upwards to make a boat shape.  Leave the foil secure but loose around the fish.  Repeat for the rest of the filets.

Take your little boats and sail them into the oven.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and you can smell the garlic.  Serve immediately, with boiled potatoes covered in olive oil.


  1. I'm curious --are the bacalhau salty or do you soak them before baking? I bet I could try this over the summer once the rockfish start coming in. Maybe even on the grill?

    The moliceiro are so lovely!

  2. Those are great ideas! Yes to both of your questions, really-- the bacalhau is soaked, but it is still pretty salty. If you use other fish I would add salt, unlike with bacalhau.

    Rockfish sounds yummy!! And grilled would be wonderful-- I am jealous that our little balcony does not support such things. :) Tell me how it turns out!