16 October 2011

Bacalhau Assado no Forno

If Bacalhau à Brás is the dish I hear most foreigners call their favorite, then Bacalhau Assado has to be-- hands down-- the one I hear most Portuguese call their favorite.

It shouldn't be terribly surprising, really.  Of all the simple ways to prepare bacalhau, this is one of the simplest. And in a culture where quality ingredients are prized above fancy culinary techniques, how could you help but love a no-fuss dish which showcases the taste of bacalhau at its best?

As a blogger of the bacalhau, it is actually a bit inexcusable that it took me this long to post such an core member of the saltcod tradition.  My only excuse is that it took me five or six tries to get it right.

What's that?  The simplest bacalhau dish, and you couldn't get it right??

Yes, I admit it.  I couldn't stop tinkering with the basic formula.  Adding a breadcrumb and parmesan crust.  Doing spicy things with the potatoes.  Skimping on olive oil to save calories.  Buying bargain saltcod wrapped in plastic.


(Actually, try the breadcrumb and parmesan crust, but beware that if you call this Bacalhau Assado in front of my husband he will look at you quizzically and then tell you that it may be lovely, but it is not Bacalhau Assado.)

The main thing I learned was that I should stop trying so hard and simply do as generations of tiny Portuguese women have done before me:

1. Buy the best bacalhau you can afford.
2. Use lots of olive oil.
3. Make sure the pan and oven are very hot before you start roasting it.

And with those few rules... the result is the best bacalhau assado ever.

5 out of 5 fins
After working so hard to get this right, I feel confident calling this a 5 fin dish.

Well... the caveat here is that if you enjoy the taste of bacalhau, its tangy and salty and distinctive flavor, then the roasting in nothing but garlic-infused oil until the top gets crusty will make you swoon.  On the other hand, if you are a bacalhau novice and prefer a dish which doesn't scream "BACALHAU!  I TASTE LIKE BACALHAU" quite so loudly-- well, you may not want to start out with this one.

Bacalhau Assado no Forno
Oven-Roasted Bacalhau with Potatoes
serves 2

2 large fillets of bacalhau, bone-in, soaked and de-salted
3/4 cup olive oil
2 small or 1 large head of garlic
chopped fresh cilantro
5 small red potatoes, halved
pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).  Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into a shallow roasting pan.  Squish the garlic cloves out of the bulb, but do not bother peeling them out of their purple skins. Scatter the garlic cloves into the oil, and place into the oven while it preheats.

2. Bring a medium pot of water to a slow boil.  Add the bacalhau, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the water gets foamy.  Remove the bacalhau with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the halved potatoes to the bacalhau cooking water, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until just tender.

3. Remove the hot pan from the oven.  The garlic should be sizzling and the oil should smell deliciously fragrant.  Place the bacalhau fillets skin side down in the center of the dish, and baste with some of the hot oil.  Scatter the potatoes around the bacalhau.  Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over the potatoes.  Sprinkle the entire dish with some pepper, and place back in the oven.

4. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes have crisped around the edges and the top of the bacalhau is a golden brown.  Chop some cilantro roughly over the whole, and serve with nothing more than a bit of red wine.  (Unlike other fish, bacalhau traditionally takes red in Portugal.)

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