So what is Brazilian Bacalhoada? There are many names for this dried salt codfish across Europe and here: Bacalhau for the Portuguese speaking people; Stockfish for the Anglo-Saxon; Torsk for the Danish; Baccala for the Italian; Bacalao for the Spanish; Morue, Cabillaud for the French; and Codfish for the North American.
First, the Vikings dried their fish in the salty air of the oceans, discovering the way to preserve it for their long maritime journeys. Next, in the 11th century, between northern Spain and southwestern France, the Basques decided to salt the fish before drying it on stone ocean cliffs: the bacalhau was born. Fast-forward some centuries, and the Portuguese with abundant salt production, in cahoots with the British navigational might, cornered the dry-salted fish world market.
Preservation techniques evolved with the world, but thankfully the dried-salt-codfish remains. One of the most popular fish dishes in Brazil is the bacalhoada – a type of casserole made with dry-cod (bacalhau), potatoes, vegetables and herbs.
The bacalhoada arrived in Brazil with the Portuguese Imperial Court and by now, most families have developed their own bacalhoada recipe. From millennials, all the way back to the economic deprived post-war generation, Brazilians have elevated the Portuguese salt-cod casserole to epicurean glory.
My parents never crossed over from their frugal post-war consumer profile; so, through most of my youth we ate bacalhoada only during religious holidays that forbade us to eat meat, including the 40 days of lent.
By generation X, the abstinence of meat during lent was curbed to only Fridays. However older relatives still observed the 40-day rule abstinence – because Sunday family gatherings always trumped the menu, generation X traded the Sunday spaghetti Bolognese to bacalhoada during Lent. From then on, the young generations made the bacalhoada part of Brazilian cuisine as much as yuca and dendê oil.
My mother, and most mothers of her time, would not attempt the newer ways of re-hydration and desalting of the fish. They submerged it in cold water for over 24 hours, and drained and replaced the water several times before it was ready to be used. A good bacalhau would gain 20 percent of its weight during the desalting procedure. My sisters and their young friends claimed that it was too long of a process and imagined that they would not cook it for their future families. My mother always reminded them of how long the fisherman had to wait for the fish to dry, hanging in the sun and wind.
My oldest sister still shreds the bacalhau into minuscule bits, like my mother always did. They used that technique for very different reasons – my mother’s choking phobia made her tear the poor salted, dried fish to confront any lurking bones left hidden in its flesh. (We lived in the state of Minas Gerais, inland, away from the fresh fruit of the sea. The fish, readily available in our corner of the country was the bony catches of our cold rivers). Today, my sisters’ modern family enjoys seafood as much as the coastal Brazilians do; and even my dear older sis has befriended all kinds of outsider fish. She shreds the bacalhau as tradition.
My nieces and their children have acquainted their culinary tastes with the bacalhau and transformed the famous casserole into superb gastronomic delicacies. Contrary to my mother’s traditional bacalhoada with melding ingredients, they prefer the innovative, mingling ingredients of a lightly braised bacalhoada.
A good restaurant in Brazil will have some form of bacalhoada on its menu. Most of them keep tradition in naming their dish after one or another Luso-Brazilian event or personality. I’ve kept some tradition in my bacalhoada recipe. Follow it closely and don’t forget that the most import ingredient is love, for without it the bacalhau will neither mingle nor meld.
2 pounds Bacalhau – (salt-dry cod)
5 potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thickness
1 large onion, cut into rings
1 green pepper, cut into rings
5 tomatoes, ripe but firm, cut into rings
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup black olives, whole, pitted
1 tablespoon oregano, or to taste
Prepare the fish – The dry cod should be prepared at least 12 hours in advance. In a deep glass bowl, rinse the cod under running water for about 5 minutes. Let it soak for 12 hours changing the water every 3 hours. This process will eliminate the excess salt and re-hydrate the fish at the same time. At the end of this process cut the fish into bite sizes pieces (do not shred the bacalhau)
1. In a large baking dish (the bacalhoada should be served in the same dish it was baked) layer the ingredients evenly. Place a thin coating of olive oil over each layer and pour the remaining oil over the last layer.
2. Stack as follows: A thin layer of olive oil /half of the onion / half of the tomatoes/ half of the pepper / all the potato/ all the fish/ the other half of the tomatoes/ the other half of the pepper/ the other half of the onions/ oregano/ Black olives
3. Cover the dish with foil and bake in a 450-degree pre-heated oven.
4. After 50 minutes test the potatoes for doneness; serve it hot with white rice. Serve 5