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Portuguese Christmas eve recipe and the story of Bacalhau

With Christmas less than a month away we felt we wanted to share something typically Portuguese with you. Now Portuguese Christmas is much like most Christmases around the world it´s all about presents, family and friends, sharing and eating and ofcourse drinking. Eating though comes with a capital E at this time of year as food seems to be the main jest of all Christmasses and it´s mostly the food served at Christmas that differentiates Portugal from the rest of the world.

Cabeças de bacalhau prepared by Toni´s snackbar, Praia do Ribatejo, Central Portugal
Cabecas BacalhauIt´s roughly now that most are starting to plan their Christmas lunches and dinners. In Portugal there doesn´t seem to be much space for planning, many will stick tightly to their traditions when it comes to what to serve and even though these traditions vary from place to place, there set and sturdy and mostly not open for speculation. One tradition seems unanimous around the entire country and that is the inclusion of bacalhau in the Christmas eve dinner!

Supermarket BacalhauAs you may already know Bacalhau is as intrinsic to Portuguese culture as fado, the ceramic cockerels and the grilled sardine. Nothing however is as diverse and integrated into just about every Portuguese household as the many dishes made with bacalhau.

Bacalhau refers to cod which has been salted and dried. The process of drying and salting bacalhau goes as far back to the 16th century and it has become an important part of the Portuguese diet and a possibly even more important part of Portuguese culture and national pride. It is rumored that the average Portuguese person consumes more than 10 kilos of Bacalhau per year and there are more than 1000 recipes throughout Portugal that are centered around Bacalhau. And certainly living in Portugal you´ll be confronted with bacalhau dishes of all types regularly and you will often find yourself eavesdropping on passionate local conversations centered around bacalhau.
For this article I figured I would do well to go into the village and ask people about ´typical Portuguese Christmas´ and I figured they would cook ancient bacalhau recipes passed down generation by generation that they would lovingly share with me. What I got was an old cookbook full of Christmas sweets and desserts and the message that the lunch and dinners are always prepared in the same way. Than, having asked the question in a busy bar, people started to disagree as one claimed they made it in a certain way and another disagreed claiming that it was not the right way and it should be done different. There was some more surprise and heavy discussion in the local bar when Christmas day lunch seemed to vary from person to person even more but eventually everybody realized that the dishes prepared where dependent on which part of Portugal they originally came from.

I went home tired and confused but carrying a lovely old cookbook full of desserts with the best ones bookmarked so I would use them and I´m sure I will at the end of this article after Ive covered Christmas eve dinner and Christmas lunch.

I found this lovely blog that tells you most you need to know about Bacalhau (written by….) and gives a good few recipes and how to buy Bacalhau abroad, where it can be hard to find, its honest and a very good analysis of this smelly but lovely good http://bacalhauchronicles.blogspot.pt/p/bacalhau-faqs.html however I wanted to concentrate on Christmas Bacalhau and I came no closer to understanding the Christmas bacalhau.

I remembered my first visit to Portugal and the one day I was determined to make bacalhau. I went to the supermarket and asked for bacalhau than asked how to prepare it the girl said you boil it and a lot of other stuff I didnt understand. I boiled it, served it and ended up going out to diner with the friends I served it to.

I missed the part about soaking it. Soak it roughly for one to two days depending on how salty you want it and clean the water every 6 – 10 hours. One day of soaking will provide a bacalhau that I find to salty, two days of soaking could render it a bit tasteless, for me the salt is definately part of a good tasting bacalhau.

As a starting bacalhau cook I would bet on one and half days in which you clean the water at least 3 – 4 times.

 couve portuguesa Now to start using it, after soaking, you should boil it for roughly 15 minutes.
after boiling you´ll remove the bones and skin for most dishes and you´ll be left with just the white flesh but for the traditional chistmass bacalhau you´ll leave the bones and skin on and you´ll serve it with boiled egg, cabbage, potatoe and carrot. There are many sites that will give you the recipe but a Portuguese friend suggested this as being the most authentic http://novacasaportuguesa.blogspot.nl/2010/12/em-noite-de-consoada-sirva-bacalhau.html

The traditional Portuguese Bacalhau Christmass eve dinner recipe

List of ingredients (serves 4)

– 4 pieces of desalted cod; (See explanation above)
– 4 large potatoes;
– 1 large Portuguese kale (if not available use cabbage);
– 1 or 2 carrots;
– 4 eggs;
– 4 cloves of garlic;
– 2 dl olive oil;
– 1 teaspoon of vinegar;
– Salt and pepper to taste;
– 1 bay leaf.

Method of preparation

Step 1 – Place the cod in a container with a cover.
Bring to the boil a pan of water, bay leaf and 3 cloves of garlic. When boiling turn off the fire, add the cod. Close it and let it rest 45 minutes.

Step 2 – Peel the potatoes and carrots. Wash the cabbage. Place in a pot with salted boiling water and when the cabbage is tender. Remove. Boil the potatoes in the same water along with the carrots. boil the eggs for 8 minutes.

Step 3 – Meanwhile, heat the olive oil with the garlic that is left. Arrange on a platter neatly, potatoes, cod, cabbage and eggs broken in half. Drizzle with olive oil heated and serve hot.

This article is all about bacalhau but a second one will follow including some of the lovely christmass sweets from the old receitas de natal book!


Christmas in PortugalWant to read more about Christmas in Portugal?

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