Bacalhau (Portuguese Salt Cod Stew)
Portuguese salt cod stew (bacalhau or bacalhoada) is layered and baked in the oven. Made with salt cod, potatoes, hard boiled eggs, onions, olives, and lots of olive oil, it’s a satisfying recipe for cozy nights.
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1 pound salt cod fillets, preferably skinless and boneless
3/4 to 1 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow or sweet Vidalia onions, sliced
2 pounds waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold works great), peeled
4 large eggs, hard boiled and sliced
About 40 pitted black olives (I used Kalamata olives; can also use green olives)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the salt cod in water:
Salt cod typically comes either in dry fillets, already boned and skinned, or it comes whole. The fillets need to be rinsed, then soaked in water, and kept chilled, for 24 hours, with one or two changes of the water.
If you are using a whole fish, not prepared fillets, it needs to be soaked in water for up to 48 hours, also with several changes of water, and the bones and the skin removed and discarded after soaking.
Preheat the oven (optional): If you plan to bake the bacalhoada, instead of simmering it on the stove, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Simmer the salt cod in milk and/or water: Put salt cod in a saucepan. Add enough milk, water, or a mixture of milk and water to just cover. Bring mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for a couple minutes. Remove the fish and set aside.
Parboil the potatoes and slice: Parboil the potatoes for 20 minutes (you can cook them in the water you used to cook the fish if you want). Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
Layer the casserole: In a large pyrex casserole or Dutch oven (use a Dutch oven if making on a stove-top), generously coat the bottom with olive oil. Place a layer of sliced onions over the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of sliced potatoes over the onions. Breaking up the salt cod with your fingers, place pieces of salt cod in a layer over the potatoes. Taste the fish for saltiness. After a day of soaking and further cooking, there should be just a hint of saltiness in the fish. If most of the salt was soaked out of the fish, and the fish doesn't taste at all salty, you may need to sprinkle some salt back onto the fish as you place the layers down. Generously pour some olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper. Repeat with another layer of onions, potatoes, fish, olive oil, pepper (and more salt if needed). Then finish with layers of onions, potatoes, more olive oil, sliced hard boiled eggs, and olives.
Cook on the stovetop or bake: Place on stovetop on medium heat, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Or bake, covered in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until everything is completely cooked through. Serve with sides of rice and salad, or some crusty bread.