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Bacalhau à Brás with black olives

Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for dried and salted codfish. Fresh (unsalted) cod is referred to as bacalhau fresco (fresh cod).


Bacalhau dishes are common in Portugal and Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, and to a lesser extent in former Portuguese colonies like Angola, Macau, and Brazil. There are said to be over 1000 recipes in Portugal alone and it can be considered the iconic ingredient of Portuguese cuisine (but curiously the only fish that is not consumed fresh in this fish-loving nation). Similar recipes can be found from Portugal to Greece (Bakaliaros). It is also found in the cuisines of other territories and regions like Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In Norway where most of the salted and dried cod are produced, bacalao is one special dish, introduced made mostly of dried fish, potatoes, and onion. It is often cooked on social occasions and is the Portuguese traditional Christmas dinner in some parts of Portugal.

History of bacalhau dishes

Salt cod has been produced for at least 500 years, since the time of the European discoveries of the New World. Before refrigeration, there was a need to preserve the codfish; drying and salting are ancient techniques to preserve nutrients and the process makes the codfish tastier.

The Portuguese tried to use this method of drying and salting on several varieties of fish from their waters, but the ideal fish came from much further north. With the "discovery" of Newfoundland in 1497, long after the Basque whalers arrived in Channel-Port aux Basques, they started fishing its cod-rich Grand Banks. Thus, bacalhau became a staple of the Portuguese cuisine, nicknamed Fiel amigo (faithful friend). From the 18th century, the town of Kristiansund in Norway became an important place of purchasing bacalhau or klippfisk (literally "cliff fish", since the fish was dried on stone cliffs by the sea to begin with.) Since the method was introduced by the Dutchman Jappe Ippes in abt 1690, the town had produced klippfisk and when the Spanish merchants arrived, it became a big industry. The bacalhau or bacalao dish is sometimes said to originate from Kristiansund, where it was introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese fish buyers and became very popular. Bacalao was common everyday food in north west Norway to this day, as it was cheap to make. In later years it is more eaten at special occasions.

This dish was also popular in Portugal and other Roman Catholic countries, because of the many days (Fridays, Lent, and other festivals) on which the Church forbade the eating of meat. Bacalhau dishes were eaten instead.

Bacalhau is also popular in Sfax where this dish is eaten in the first day of Eid ul-Fitr with charmoula.

Bacalhau dishes

There are numerous bacalhau recipe variations, depending on region and tradition. In Portugal, it is said there are more than 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for every day of the year; others say there are 1,001 ways. Whatever the exact number, bacalhau is an ubiquitous ingredient in Portuguese cuisine. There are several notable main bacalhau recipes which have even gained fame in Southeast Asia. Many Asian tourists head to Macau just to eat bacalhau, an area where fresh seafood is also very popular.

Bacalhau is often served with potatoes. Green (Vinho Verde) or mature wines (Alentejo Wine, Dão Wine, or Douro Wine) are served alongside.

Bacalhau à Brás

Bacalhau à Brás (Cod à la Brás) is one of the most popular ways to prepare codfish in Portugal. It is made from shreds of salted cod (bacalhau), onions and thinly chopped (matchstick sized) fried potatoes in a bound of scrambled eggs. It is usually garnished with black olives and sprinkled with fresh parsley. It is a very common dish in cafes and restaurants as well as households through Portugal as a lunch option. Its popularity is maybe because is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare. The origin of the recipe is uncertain, but it is said to have originated in Bairro Alto, an old quarter of Lisbon. The noun "Brás" (or sometimes Bráz) is supposedly the surname of its creator.

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