Bacalhau à Brás is a Portuguese dish using salted cod (bacalhau), eggs, and potatoes. The Portuguese were one of the first European cultures to fish for cod, making huge harvests and preserving the fish off the coast of Newfoundland shortly after Columbus discovered the New World. Since then, this salted cod has been an integral part of Portuguese culture, and it’s often said that you can cook a new recipe using bacalhau every day of the year (some say there are over 1,000 recipes that include this fish). Advances in fishing technology in the mid 20th century had collapsed the Northwest Atlantic cod market by the 1990s – cod takes a long time to mature, and overfishing had run rampant. Today, bacalhau is most often made using cod harvested from Arctic waters under more strict quotas.
Bacalhau is made by salting and drying the fish in the sun; while it was originally a method of preservation (salted cod keeps a long time even without refrigeration), its unique, strong flavor is unmistakable and delicious, and its popularity endures today. The only downside to eating bacalhau is that it requires a bit of foresight, since it needs to be soaked overnight to reconstitute the fish.
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most famous Portuguese dishes, and is considered the ultimate comfort meal in Portugal. The dish uses many of the quintessential ingredients found in Portuguese cooking – bacalhau, eggs, potatoes, and black olives.
Sautéing the fish to soften
Bacalhau à Brás (Salt Cod, Eggs, and Potatoes)
6oz bacalhau (salted cod), soaked overnight (see notes below)
2 med white potatoes (white sweet potatoes okay), peeled
1/4 cup lard or duck fat (coconut oil okay)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 pinch saffron (about 5 threads)
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 eggs, lightly beaten
small handful fresh parsley, chopped
3oz black olives (10-15 total)
1. Rinse the salt cod gently under cold water to remove any surface salt. Soak in cold water overnight (12-18 hours) in the fridge, changing the water twice (I started soaking a couple hours before bedtime, changed the water when I went to bed, and changed it again right when I woke up). When you’re ready to cook, drain the fish, gently rinse again under cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Shred the fish into bite-sized strips. At this point, the fish is ready for all sorts of dishes – sometimes I’ll soak extra so that I can simply sauté it in butter and enjoy it as-is.
2. Using a cheese grater or the grater attachment of a food processor, grate the potatoes into shreds. Soak in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Warm the lard or duck fat in a large skillet on med/high heat until shimmering. Add half of the potatoes and pan-fry, stirring often so as to keep the potatoes from sticking together; remove with a slotted spoon when they turn golden brown, about 5 minutes, and set aside to cool on paper towels. Repeat this process with the other half of the potatoes. Reduce heat to medium, discard all but 1 tbsp of the cooking fat.
4. Add the chopped onion and saffron to the skillet and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fish and pepper; gently stir to combine. Allow to sauté until the fish is softened, 3-5 minutes.
5. Add half of the fried potatoes, stirring to combine, then pour the beaten eggs over everything. Scramble the eggs until cooked, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and the other half of the potatoes; add the black olives, then serve.