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Perfect for Holy Week–three ways to cook authentic Portuguese ‘bacalao’


BACALHAU with Clams

In the season of Lent, bacalao is the ultimate indulgence. So, when I received a text message from Chingling Tanco saying that she finally had slightly salted bacalao (Atlantic cod premium loins, the type that needs no overnight soaking and behaves more like a meaty, juicy fish steak when left whole and soft and supple when flaked), I was overly excited. More so when I found out how much they were being sold for.

I asked João Branquinho (who, by being Portuguese, has earned the right to be a bacalao whiz) to share his recipes with us. My personal favorite dish of his is the homey Bacalhau al Bras. João also happens to roast the finest chicken with piri-piri sauce (the thought alone makes my mouth water) and imports excellent yet reasonably priced Portuguese wines of distinct character.

João says his recipes are good for four, and best eaten with bread, boiled or baked potatoes, or rice. Note: If you are using regular salted bacalao instead of loins for these recipes, soak the fish overnight with several water changes.

Bacalhau a Bras (codfish with fried potatoes and eggs)

This is one of the most popular ways to prepare codfish in Portugal. Wine suggestion: a full-bodied red wine. The intensity of the flavors of the dish needs a strong balance. Guadalupe Red is an excellent wine to pair with this dish.

500 g salted codfish

750 g freshly fried potatoes (shoestring cut)

6 eggs

150 ml white wine

3 medium onions

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

6 garlic cloves

Bacalhau al Bras

2 tsp chopped parsley


Black pepper


12-18 black olives (not chopped)

Fry potatoes until golden. Do not brown. Drain.

Bring water to a boil and add the codfish; cook for 7-10 minutes. Usually, when you start smelling the fish, it is time to take it out. Leave to cool.

Flake fish.

Drizzle pan with olive oil.

Add bay leaves and onion. Cook until golden but not caramelized.

Add garlic.

Two minutes later, add fish.

Season with pepper and nutmeg.

Cook for 3 minutes, mixing gently and not allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add shoestring fried potatoes.

Add wine.

Add half of the olives and half of the parsley, the whole time mixing gently.

Add eggs over low fire.

Stop cooking while eggs are still slightly wet.

Garnish with remaining olives and parsley.

Serve immediately.

Bacalhau Com Natase Espinafres (codfish with cream and spinach)

The secret to this recipe is good spinach. If unsure, best to cook it with frozen spinach. Wine suggestion: Pair with wine that is full-bodied, very round and oak-aged, like Herdade da Figueirinha Reserva 2008. The wine is not too heavy and the acidity level is low.

500 g codfish

650 gr freshly fried potatoes (medium-size cubes)

50 ml white wine

2 medium onions, julienned

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

6 garlic cloves

600 ml milk

200 ml cream

30-50 g shredded cheese (Emmental)

200 g frozen spinach

2 tbsp all-purpose flour


White or black pepper

½ tsp nutmeg

BACALHAU with Cream and Spinach

Fry potatoes until lightly golden but not brown; drain well.

Put milk in a pot and add the codfish.

Simmer for 7-10 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat and leave to cool.

Flake fish.

In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp flour with ½ cup of water, whisk well, add to milk. Then add cream and nutmeg to the mixture. Whisk milk over low heat, until slightly thickened.

In a pan, add olive oil, bay leaf and onions. Cook until golden but not caramelized.

Add garlic and, 2 minutes later, add flaked codfish. Season with pepper. Add wine, reduce, stir gently.

Line potatoes on an oven-proof dish.

Top with flaked bacalhau.

Add a thin layer of spinach.

Finish the dish with a layer of white sauce.

Top with grated cheese

Bake in 350ºC oven for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Bacalhau com Ameijoas (codfish with clams)

Wine suggestions for this excellent dish: Vinho Verde or Alvarinho.

These are wines with character and aroma—perfect with seafood and hot spices.

500 g codfish loin (about 4)

500 g clams

200 ml Vinho Verde (Casa

do Valle is the one I use)

3 medium onions, diced

4 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

12 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ bunch each of flat leaf parsley and coriander, chopped

Diced red bell pepper

Diced bird’s eye labuyo (to taste)

1 tsp butter


Black pepper

2 tsp lemon juice

In a pot, put 2 tbsp of olive oil; when hot, add 2 sliced onions. Let it cook in low fire for 5 minutes before adding 8 cloves of garlic. Let it cook for 2 minutes.

Add 2 tbsp bell pepper and labuyo to taste.

Add clams and cover the pot. Let it cook for 2 minutes.

Add parsley and coriander.

Add 150 ml of wine and cover. Let the clams open and add butter. Turn off heat.

Season to taste and add lemon.

In another pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add bay leaf, onion and diced tomatoes.

Portuguese wines of distinct character

Add 50 ml wine, 4 cloves of garlic, black pepper and mix gently. Let it cook in low fire.

Add codfish and slow-cook for 5 minutes; turn the loins carefully and cook another 5 minutes.

Arrange on a serving platter

Contact Mida Food Distributors Inc., tel. 5240006, 5265136. The same bacalao will be available in leading supermarkets under the Pacific Bay brand soon. By the way, fantastic barramundi collars for sinigang are also available.

Visit João Branquinho at his chicken stall at Legazpi Market on Sundays, or e-mail him for his wines at brankinhotrading@gmail.com

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Tags: Bacalao , Cooking , Food , Holy Week , João Branquinho , Portuguese cuisine , Wine

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