Portuguese love cod and are the biggest consumers of cod in the world. In Portugal, cod is eaten in every possible and conceivable way, raw, cooked, roasted, grilled, sliced or shredded, white or yellow cured. But note, the cod we are talking about is always dry and salty. In Portugal, fresh cod is not eaten.
People say that there is a cod dish for each day of the year, but here we will stick to the 15 Best cod dishes in Portugal – meaning the best-known, most popular, and tastiest ones. But, we will also explain how to choose and prepare the best cod!
The several species of cod
Cod is the general name for several species of fish, of which the best known are the Gadus Morhua, which lives in the North Atlantic (Canada and Norway), and the Gadus macrocephalus, which lives in the Pacific Ocean (Alaska).
The cod preferably consumed in Portugal is Gadus Morhua, which is a cod that crumbles into splinters and has an ivory color. Pacific Gadus macrocephalus, however, is barely used. Sometimes there are cooks who use this cod to make bolinhos de bacalhau (cod cakes), but it is an exception and it is not easy to find it for sale. Gadus macrocephalus is not as popular as it does not fall into splinters as we like it and it is whiter.
How to choose Cod
When choosing cod you have to take into account the following characteristics:
- it must be very dry;
- be wide with the shape of a wing;
- have a uniform straw-yellow color.
- cannot have dark spots, which indicate that the cod was poorly salted
- neither pink spots, which means that it has excess moisture.
Not to mention that dried and salted cod must have a clean and not unpleasant smell. A test to see if the cod is good is to take it by the loin and check the horizontality, it can bend slightly, but it has to remain straight. A good cod cannot be soft!
Besides these characteristics, when buying cod you have to pay attention to its weight. A cod can be:
- Special – weight greater than 3 kg
- Large – 2 to 3 kg
- Grown – 1- 2 kg
- Current – 0.5 to 1 kg
- Kid – less than 0.5 kg
What is assorted cod?
There is also the option to buy assorted cod which is usually broken, amputated, or with slight defects in preparation or conservation. These can be large (cod greater than 1 kg) or small (weighing less than 1 kg)
How to prepare cod
As we mentioned before, the cod eaten in Portugal is dry and salted, so before cooking and consuming it you have to soak it in abundant water. The cod is washed repeatedly, in successive waters in order to remove excess salt and to rehydrate it.
In addition, the slices should always be placed with the skin facing upwards, as it is greasy, forming a water-impermeable layer. Sometimes after soaking the cod can be dipped in cow’s milk to soften it.
The time it takes to soak the cod will depend on the size of the cod. See below the recommended time for each type of cod:
- Special cod: 48 to 50 hours, sometimes up to 72 hours;
- Large: 38 to 48 hours;
- Grown, current, or small cod: 30 to 36 hours;
It is best to soak the cod in the refrigerator or with ice water, slowing the decomposition process, but it is not mandatory. When cod is soaked in a room it is normal to get an unpleasant smell, especially in summer.
When preparing a particular dish of cod you also have to take into account the type of cut. The highest slices, the loins, are preferably used in recipes that require whole pieces, such as roasted, grilled, or boiled cod. On the other hand, thinner flaps and slices are more suitable for Bacalhau à Brás or cod with cream. Finally, the cod tail has a particular flavor because of its gelatinous skin and is very often used to serve with chickpeas or black beans.
Another factor that should be taken into account when cooking cod is that the cod should not boil while it is cooking. After putting the cod in the pan, when the water starts to boil, remove it from the heat, cover the pan, or decrease the temperature of the stove. Boiling damages the taste and dries out the cod.
15 Best Cod dishes to eat in Portugal
#1 Bolinhos de bacalhau / Codfish cakes
The Bolinhos de bacalhau or pasteis de bacalhau is one of the most typical cod recipes in Portugal. It is a recipe that is passed on from generation to generation. These are balls made of mashed potatoes, cooked and shredded cod (without bones), and parsley. They are then fried in hot oil.
Codfish cakes are perfect as a snack, to eat on a summer afternoon with a refreshment, or as an appetizer on party days. Sometimes it is found in restaurants as a starter or in cafés and fairs as a snack.
#2 Bacalhau à lagareiro
Bacalhau à lagareiro is a simple recipe but it is one of the best cod dishes. It is a dish that emphasizes the simplicity and quality of its basic ingredients: cod and olive oil.
In this recipe, we use cod loins, which are roasted in the oven with bay leaves, a lot of oil, and garlic. They are accompanied by punched potatoes. There are small potatoes roasted in the oven with peel, slightly crushed with a punch, and drizzled with oil in abundance. If you can only try one dish of cod this is the one we recommend.
#3 Bacalhau com natas / Cod with cream
Cod with cream is one of the tastiest cod recipes. Despite not being the most traditional recipes of Portuguese cuisine, it quickly became a classic and is one of the most common dishes in restaurants – often being the dish of the day.
In this recipe, we use shredded cod which is then cooked in milk. Wrap the cod with diced potatoes, which were previously fried, and add an onion and garlic stew. Mix everything on a tray and sprinkle with béchamel, cream, and, in the end, cover with cheese. Take it to the oven to roast.
# 4 Gomes de Sá cod
Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá is named after its creator José Gomes de Sá, a cook from Porto, who in the late 19th century invented this cod recipe, which quickly became one of the most famous dishes in Portuguese cuisine.
To make this dish we use shredded cod that has been previously cooked. We make an onion and garlic stew and add the diced potatoes and the cod that were also previously cooked. Immediately pour everything into a clay tray and bake for 10 min. In the end, cover with slices of boiled egg, black olives, and chopped parsley. Delicious.
# 5 Bacalhau à Brás / Brás-style cod
Bacalhau à Brás is one of the most loved recipes by the Portuguese. This simple recipe is made with shredded cod that is wrapped with shoestring fries and eggs. Fry everything with a little oil until everything is cooked. In the end, it is decorated with olives and parsley.
It is one of the most typical dishes in Portuguese cuisine and easily found in all types of restaurants, throughout the country. It is also often the dish of the day.
# 6 Bacalhau à Zé do Pipo – Zé do Pipo cod
Bacalhau à Zé do Pipo is a delicious recipe for baked cod au gratin with mayonnaise, mashed potatoes, potatoes and onions.
This recipe originates in Porto and the name comes from its creator, Mr. José Valentim, better known as Zé do Pipo. Despite being a Porto dish, it is recreated throughout the country, everyone loves it. It is a very common recipe at weddings and big receptions.
# 7 Bacalhau à moda de Viana / Viana do Castelo-style cod
Bacalhau à Moda de Viana do Castelo and the Viana pie are the most emblematic dishes of this city. Viana do Castelo is closely related to cod, as many codfish left the port of Viana to fish cod in Terra Nova. Currently the hospital ship Gil Eannes, which supported the Portuguese cod fleet, serves as a museum in the port of Viana.
This intimate relationship with cod has made Viana a reference place for anyone who wants to eat cod. This Viana-style cod recipe is one of the most delicious. To prepare this recipe it is necessary to bake cod slices wrapped in lumbar cabbage in the oven until the leaves dry. The cod is then placed in a clay dish accompanied by boiled potatoes and an onion stew. Cod is served with a slice of cornbread fried.
# 8 Bacalhau espiritual – Spiritual Cod
Spiritual Cod is one of the most popular cod dishes. In addition to having an intense aroma and colors, it is a dish that feeds a crowd. Spiritual cod was created by Countess Almeida Araújo, inspired by a French cod dish “Brandade” but gave it a very Portuguese touch.
This recipe is made with bread crumbs, milk, grated carrots, onions, cod and covered with béchamel sauce. You have to cook the cod and shred it. Soak the bread in milk until it crumbles. Then make a stew with the onion, garlic, grated carrot, the shredded cod, and finally the bread. Everything is put on a tray, covered with béchamel sauce and grated cheese, and taken to the oven to brown.
# 9 Açorda de Bacalhau
Açorda de Bacalhau is a typical dish from the Alentejo, in the south of Portugal. It is a simple and comforting dish, which resembles a soup. It is made with shredded cod, old Alentejo bread, coriander, garlic, tomatoes, and poached eggs. It is relatively easy to find cod açorda in Alentejo restaurants, but otherwise, it is practically impossible.
To cook this recipe you have to cook the cod and then shred it. In a pan, the garlic, coriander and tomatoes are sautéed, the Alentejo bread is chopped, the water used for cooking the cod is added. Let it boil and add two eggs, covering the pan allowing them to poach. In the end, join olive oil and vinegar, and coriander.
# 10 Bacalhau com todos – Cod with everyone
Bacalhau com todos is a simple dish, but much appreciated especially for its tradition. Fundamentally it is an essential dish at Christmas as most Portuguese cannot conceive a Christmas without cod, and the cod dish should be bacalhau com todos.
The dish consists of cooked cod (all parts of the cod), with boiled potatoes and eggs, Portuguese and/or Galician cabbage and sometimes carrots and chickpeas. In the end, the cod and potatoes are abundanted drizzled with olive oil. The olive oil is usually infused with onion and garlic. Although it is a dish very associated with Christmas, it is eaten throughout the year in every corner of the country. It is not the most creative way to cook cod, but it is perhaps the most traditional recipe.
# 11 Bacalhau à Minhota – Minho Style Cod
As the name implies, this cod dish is typical in the Minho region, in northern Portugal, and it is there that you can easily find it in restaurants.
This recipe uses cod loins, sprinkled with sweet pepper and fried in oil. Cut the potatoes into thick slices and fry them in oil. When they are fried, place the cod and potatoes on absorbent paper to absorb the oil. The thin slices of onion are also fried in oil. Finally, serve the cod with olive oil and fried onions accompanied by chips and sprouts. It’s one of the best cod dishes on the list.
# 12 Bacalhau assado no forno ou brasa – Cod baked in the oven or on the grill
Cod baked in the oven or on the grill is a classic of Portuguese cuisine. Simply delicious for those who appreciate cod for the cod, as it highlights its main ingredient, cod.
The recipe is made with cod loin baked in the oven or grilled over hot coal served with punched potatoes and drizzled with fine olive oil. In restaurants, it is often called “bacalhau com batatas a murro“.
# 13 Bacalhau com broa – Cod with cornbread
There are lots of versions of this recipe but they all have a common feature: they take cornbread over the cod. It is a dish that everyone loves and it can feed a crowd.
The recipe consists of using cooked shredded cod or cod loins covered with a layer of cornbread. On a tray place, a layer of onion fried in oil, a layer of cod, and then place the bread crumbs with garlic and bake. It is accompanied by potatoes that can be served separately or also included in one layer of the dish.
# 14 Punheta de bacalhau – Cod handjob
This is not a typo, that’s the actual name of the dish, and its literal translation. So… yeah, moving on…
This dish uses shredded raw cod and it is kind of a Portuguese ceviche. It is an ideal dish for snacking and to eat with bread. The essence of the recipe is raw shredded cod (soaked), onions, garlic, olive oil, and parsley. Boiled eggs, olives, vinegar/lemon, and pepper can be added but they are all optional, and it depends on the restaurant/cook.
# 15 Bacalhau à Espanhola – Spanish-style Codfish
Bacalhau à Espanhola is basically a cod stew. It is made with alternating layers of potatoes, cod, tomatoes, and onions. To make this recipe you need to cut the above ingredients coarsely.
In a saucepan start to put the onion, then the tomato, cod, potatoes, cod, and finish with tomato, parsley, and garlic. Finally, let the ingredients cook over low heat. It is a very comforting dish that usually lasts for several days without losing quality.
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