What is the main staple in Portuguese cuisine? “Bacalhau”, of course. Cod fish is very important in this country, historically, economically and culturally, being showcased in many museums, fairs and, obviously, in the thousands of recipes in which cod is the star ingredient. It is said that there is a recipe for each day of the year but, quite honestly, that might be cutting it short.
With olive oil, onions, potatoes, bell peppers and any other ingredient you can think of, any Portuguese cod dish will always be divine.
That said, there are certain traditional recipes that are an absolute must if you want to really get to know the country’s cuisine and, to help you narrow down all the options, we have prepared for you a guide of the best “bacalhau” dishes in Portugal.
In the north, “bacalhau” is even more famous than in the rest of the country. In Viana do Castelo you can still visit the shipyards that built the fleet of cod boats. “Gil Eanes” is the most famous boat of the fleet, an homage to one of the great sailors of the 15th century that, nowadays, is used as an unusual hotel and gives its name to a cod dish made with chickpeas.
If you want a smoother flavour, you can try the classic bacalhau à margarida da praça (grilled with boiled potatoes) or the bacalhau à moda de Viana (wrapped in cabbage leaves). Another traditional dish, common during Christmas when there’s always too much food, is roupa velha de bacalhau, made with all the leftovers, chopped and mixed in a frying pan.
In Braga, you can try bacalhau à Narcisa, which consists of fried pieces of cod with bay leaves and cloves, garnished with broa, a dense corn bread.
Trás-os-Montes and Douro
Serrano ham and cod is a surprising but delicious combination that you can find in these regions. There are a few variations, depending on the area, but bacalhau à Transmontana (with a bit of Port wine) is one of the most renowned. In Barroso, you can try bacalhau assado com pão de centeio, roasted cod with broken up pieces of rye bread and bacalhau podre, fried and covered in egg, the speciality at O Cortiço, in Viseu, a restaurant that is a true institution among foodies. Also famous in the area are the migas com bacalhau, chopped vegetables and beans, mixed with bread and cod.
In Viseu, Coimbra and the Beiras region, the most typical preparation is bacalhau à Lagareiro or with batatas a muro, also popular in the rest of the country. Basically, it consists of roasted cod, garnished with mashed potatoes, mimicking the way the “lagareiros” would step on the olives to make olive oil.
In Anadia, a small town in Aveiro, there’s another famous recipe that involves serrano ham and cod, bacalhau com presunto à Bairrada and, in Arganil, Coimbra you can try the bola de bacalhau, a corn patty filled with cod.
The famous bacalhau à Zé do Pipo with a mayonnaise crust was created by the owner of a restaurant with the same name for a culinary competition in the city of Oporto. Nowadays, it is one of the most requested dishes by cod lovers.
The bacalhau à Gomes Sá, cooked with milk and served with potatoes and boiled eggs, was created by José Luiz Gomes de Sá for the O Lisbonense restaurant, and bacalhau à João do Buraco is a delicious dish made with shrimp and clams.
Probably the most well-known cod dish, loved all over the country and overseas, bacalhau à brás is prepared with strips of cod, fried potato and eggs. It is said that this dish was created by a cook in a tavern in Bairro Alto in Lisbon. Currently, you can find it in almost every menu in traditional restaurants.
Sintra is the home of a more refined dish, bacalhau espiritual, traditionally served during Easter, made with carrots, bechamel sauce and roasted until golden.
With a humbler background but just as delicious, you must try pataniscas de bacalhau, from the historical Portuguese province of Estremadura. These misshapen cod cakes rival the equally famous bolos de bacalhau and are and absolute fried delight.
Soups and açordas are the culinary stars of this region. The açorda is a garlic soup made with stale bread to which you can add almost anything, making it a modest dish that can be transformed into a sophisticated meal for the most exquisite palates.
When prepared with cod, the açorda is usually served with eggs.
The south of Portugal is known for its amazing seafood dishes and among them is bacalhau à algarvia, fried and garnish with onions and potatoes.
Now that you have all the info about cod in Portugal, you can start your culinary journey and when you finish it you can get your hands “dirty” trying to prepare one of the thousands of cod recipes out there.