Codfish in Portugal
On Christmas Eve the consumption of codfish in Portugal can reach 5 thousand tons. The Portuguese consume 20% of all codfish caught in the world, and they have traditionally more recipes with codfish than days in a year. In every big supermarket in Portugal there is an extra section selling dried codfish in all kind of variations and qualities.
There is no codfish in the waters of Portugal and 70% of all cod consumed in Portugal comes from Norway. The waters around Portugal are abundant in other species like sardines for example, but which are oily fish. However, for the drying and salting preservation process to occur effectively, the fish needs to contain a low level of fat which makes the codfish perfect.
Codfish can live more than 20 years and weight up to 90 kg. The two most common species of cod are the Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua), which lives in the colder waters and deeper sea regions throughout the North Atlantic, and the Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus), found in both eastern and western regions of the northern Pacific.
The History of Codfish
The Vikings were not only great navigators at sea and fearless warriors, they were also the first to preserve codfish for their long journeys. Since they had no salt, they just dried the fish in the open cold air.
It is due to the Basques, people who inhabited the two sides of the Western Pyrenees, on the side of Spain and France, which started to preserve codfish with salt. The Basques knew about salt and there are records that in the year 1000, they traded cured, salted, and dried cod. It was on the coast of Spain, therefore, that the cod began to be salted and then dried on the rocks, in the open air, so that the fish could be preserved better.
The Portuguese discovered cod in the 15th century, at the time of the great navigations. They needed products that were not perishable and could withstand long journeys, which sometimes took months to cross the Atlantic. They made attempts with several fish from the Portuguese coast but went to find the ideal fish in colder northern waters. The dried and salted Codfish could be kept on the ships for several months and was an important protein source.
Nowadays, Portugal consumes 20% of all cod caught in the world, asserting itself as the market that most prefers this type of fish.
About “Bacalhau com Natas”
One of the most famous dishes with codfish in Portugal is “Bacalhau com Natas” meaning codfish with cream. Normally it is not very common to use cream or cheese in the traditional Portuguese kitchen, but anyway, this dish is one of the classic recipes found in restaurants in Portugal.
If you like Portuguese cuisine, you have to learn this recipe, to be part of your repertoire. With a nice golden brown gratinated top and a creamy and tasty inside, “Bacalhau com Natas” brings you a piece of beautiful Portugal to your table.
For the recipe you have to buy salted cod, or you can buy half cured (mostly frozen) cod. Salted cod must be soaked overnight before cooking to remove the salt. Remove excess salt from the loins under running water. Place it in a bowl skin side up with cold water to cover and place the bowl in the fridge. Soak for 24 hours, changing the water three or four times.
If you don’t want to use cream you can use milk instead. Just replace the amount of cream in the recipe with milk. If you prefer a lighter recipe with codfish, see this recipe with chickpeas on my site. This is also a very Portuguese combination in a more modern style.
Recipe “Bacalhau com Natas” – Gratinated Codfish
- oven form
- kitchen paper
- 1 kg potatoes for frying
- 4 loins codfish soaked or half cured
- 3 onions white
- 5 gloves garlic
- 700 ml milk
- 200 ml cream
- 200 g mozzarella cheese grated
- 50 g butter
- 50 g flour
- 100 ml olive oil
- 750 ml sunflower seed oil for frying
- 2 bay leaves
- to taste nutmeg
- to taste black pepper ground
- to taste salt
- Place the cod in a pan with the milk, the cream, the bay leaves and one crushed garlic clove. Let it come to a boil, lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes.
- Cut the onions into julienne (thin stripes), chop the garlic and place with the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Season with salt (so the onion leaves water and fries slowly). Let it fry slowly on the side while preparing the other ingredients and stir occasionally until the onion turns yellow tanned. This process is very important and will give a lot of flavor.
- Remove the cod from the milk and let it cool. Remove the skin and the fish bones and part in big shreds. Save the milk mixture to make the béchamel afterwards.
- Preheat the oven to 200º C.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into small cubes (about 1cm x 1cm). Fry them in sunflower seed oil (at a temperature of about 180 ° C) until the potato cubes are very golden and brown. Take the potato cubes out of the oil and dry them on kitchen paper.
- Now we use the milk mixture where we cooked the cod to make a béchamel sauce. In a saucepan, let the butter melt over low heat and add the flour. Mix well until it forms a homogeneous paste and add the milk mixture. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat until it thickens and doesn't taste like flour anymore.
- Now add all the ingredients (the onions, the fried potato cubes, the cod chunks and the béchamel sauce) and fold in everything well.
- Spread the cod mixture well in a tray and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
- Place the cod with cream in the oven to gratinate for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is golden brown.