Bacalhau or codfish took us by surprise in Portugal. The simplicity of the dish, the multiple variations and cooking preparation styles and the rich flavors made it land on our personal list of “top 100 authentic food experiences to have before I die.”
The Portuguese are obsessed with Bacalhau. This traditional food is one of Portugal’s most treasured dishes. It is eaten baked, barbecued, canned, with potatoes, with rice, and so many other ways. There are over 365 ways of preparing bacalhau, and some say over 1,000 ways of serving it.
Surprisingly, bacalhau is not native to the coastline of Portugal. Bacalhau is imported from Newfoundland or Norway and has been an integral part of Portuguese cuisine since the 16th century when Portuguese fishermen first brought it back from Newfoundland.
We eagerly ate our way through Portugal, sampling the different preparation styles of this national dish. While we didn’t come close to eating all 365 or 1000 different recipes, we did eat enough codfish to feed our ravenous appetites. Here, we share our favorite bacalhau dishes.
Join us for an amazing culinary journey of our top 5 authentic ways you want to eat bacalhau in Portugal.
#1 – Bacalhau à Brás – Salted Codfish, Eggs & Potatoes
Bacalhau à Brás is one of Portugal’s most popular dishes and one of our favorite ways of eating codfish. What’s wonderful about this dish is that it is so simple and yet so delicious.
The dish consists of combination of Bacalhau (cod) pieces mixed together with potatoes, eggs, onions, olives, chopped parsley and garlic.
The origin of the recipe is uncertain, but it is said to have originated in the Bairro Alto neighborhood of Lisbon, by a tavern owner named Braz. Due to the spelling of the name, the dish is also sometimes referred to as Bacalhau à Braz.
We had Bacalhau à Brás several times at different restaurants and even learned how to cook it at our Airbnb. Our favorite preparation was at Incomum Restaurant in Sintra. The chef, Luis Santos, put a creative spin on the dish with the addition of delicious vegetables and the eggs lightly battered and fried.
So delicate and delicious, you’d easily make the 45 minute trip to Sintra from Lisbon, just for the creative touch of chef, Luis Santos.
#2 – Bacalhau com Natas – Salted Codfish with Cream
A lot of Portuguese dishes are prepared with olive oil or simply grilled. With Bacalhau com Natas, you get to experience a delicious Portuguese dish made with cream.
They are several variations of this dish. Though it mainly involves cooking codfish with potatoes, onions, and cream.
At the Time Out Market in Lisbon, you can taste some of the favorite Portuguese dishes made by the best chefs in town. It is the case of Cozinha da Felicidade.
Cozinha da Felicidade literally means “Kitchen of Happiness”. It is named after the chef, Susana Felicidade. She prepares a delicious adaptation of the Bacalhau com Natas with sweet-potato chips and olives dust.
The codfish is divinely prepared. It is really fresh and the flesh is tender and soft. The delicious cream is enhanced by the olive dust bursting in the mouth. This is definitely a must-try if you are looking for an original way to savor this traditional codfish recipe.
#3- Pasteis de Bacalhau – Salted Cod Fish Cakes
Pasteis de Bacalhau or cod fish cakes are also called bolinhos de bacalhau in Northern Portugal. These cod cakes are one of the most popular ways to eat codfish in Portugal.
These delicious cakes are made with mashed potatoes, codfish, eggs, parsley and onion. Shaped with two spoons, they are deep fried before being served hot as an appetizer. You can also find them as a main dish with rice, salad and olives.
With such popularity, it is easy to find Pasteis de Bacalhau all over Portugal. You will find this delicious snack in cafes, restaurants and pastelerias, which are Portuguese bakeries.
Although deemed to be a tourist trap, Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau serves an interesting version of Pastel de Bacalhau. This concept store has reinvented the way the codfish cakes are made.
They combine the traditional codfish cake with the famous Serra da Estrela Cheese into one delicious Pastel de Bacalhau. This Pastel is about twice the size of a typical Pastel de Bacalhau and for €4 euros, it is also quadruple the price!
Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau has two locations. The first open was in Lisbon and they now have a second location in Porto. We tried it in Porto, where, for €9 euros, you get the Pastel de Bacalhau and a glass of white Porto wine.
This might be the perfect combination. First, as you bite into the codfish, you taste the delicious melted Estrella cheese. To accompany this delightful treat, you sip on a glass of Porto white wine. Although pricey, it is worth the experience.
Where to Have It
Address: R. Campo dos Mártires da Pátria 108, Porto or R. Augusta 106, Lisbon
Hours: Everyday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm in Porto, until 10pm in Lisbon.
Price: €4 euros or €9 euros with a glass of white Porto
#4- Bacalhau Assado Na Brasa com Batata a Murro – Roasted Codfish with Potatoes
This modest dish exceeds expectations. It is prepared in a very simple fashion consisting of roasted codfish with potatoes.
The secret to this exquisite dish is the use of good quality ingredients. The cod needs to be of high quality and the finest olive oil completes this dish. Typically, the cod is seasoned with salt, garlic, onions, vinegar and generously sprinkled with very good olive oil. It is accompanied with roasted potatoes and this simple combination is a classic of traditional Portuguese cuisine.
After eating this dish a number of times and tasting the variations in quality, we found our best Bacalhau Assado Brasa com Batata a Murro dish at a local Lisbon restaurant. Carvoaria Jacto Restaurant is in the non-touristy neighborhood of Penha de França.
Be warned the portion sizes are humongous. Go hungry or plan to share. What makes this dish stand out is the use of high quality codfish. The cod is perfectly grilled and when drizzled with olive oil and paired with the delicious potatoes, you get the true essence of authentic Portuguese cooking.
Where to Have It
Address: Rua Maria Andrade 6 B, Lisboa
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Price: €14.50 euros for the Bacalhau and you’ll also find amazing steaks and delicious wines
#5 – Pataniscas de Bacalhau – Salted Cod Fritters
Pataniscas de Bacalhau are delicious cod fritters. This is another version of the Bacalhau that is deep fried.
The cod fritters are made with eggs, flour, codfish, eggs, parsley and onion. The dough is made by mixing all the ingredients together. The cod fritters are then deep fried into a pan before serving them hot as an appetizer or as a main dish with rice.
At Flagrante Delitro, you get to taste Pataniscas de Bacalhau with the typical soupy rice, arroz de feijao, made the Portuguese way. The cod fritters are made fresh, lightly fried, served with the hearty rice, perfect for the winter months.
In addition to serving delicious Portuguese staples, Flagrante Delitro is part of Casa de Fernando Pessoa. This cultural house is dedicated to the famous Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, where he lived his last 15 years in Lisbon.
The name Flagrante Delitro is actually inspired by the famous photo that shows the poet drinking a glass of wine in downtown Lisbon, sent to his lovers with the dedication “in flagrante delitro”. It is actually a play on word with the expression “caught in the act” – “flagrante delito”.
Having cod fritters at the Casa de Fernando Pessoa is a delicious way to immerse yourself into the local culture.
There are so many ways that bacalhau is prepared in Portugal, depending on region, tradition and household. As the Portuguese would say: “there are more than 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for every day of the year!”
With these 5 Bacalhau dishes, you can taste some of the most popular and the tastiest way to enjoy Bacalhau. Even if codfish is not your favorite dish, you’ll find a version to satisfy your curiosity and appetite as you eat bacalhau in Portugal.
How about you? What is your favorite way to eat codfish?
For a fascinating world history about this humble fish, pick up Mark Kurlansky’s book: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
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Claire is a culinary explorer and the engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.