Ahhh, the king of the Portuguese table need not be a mystery! Many of you have written to me to say you feel intimidated when you want to make a bacalhau recipe because you are not confident in the desalting process. Well, worry no more. It is super easy and I will tell you step-by-step how to do it properly.
Using salt cod does require planning ahead, as the fish needs to be desalted before using in recipes. How long that process takes really depends on the thickness of the fish and can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.
I do not think there is anything more Portuguese than Bacalhau. It is truly my favourite food. The salt cure process makes its texture and taste alter it to celestial heights. Known in Portugal as, the “meat of the poor,” or
“faithful friend” (fiel amigo), one that people could always count on. Today the price is no longer considered the meat of the poor, however. It is now considered a luxury in many households. It is said that there are over 365 different recipes for it, one for each day of the year, heaven :) for me, but many say1000's of recipes exist.
Bacalhau, Gadus Morhua, also known as Atlantic cod, is found in the Atlantic ocean. In Portugal, it is sourced primarily from Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands in Denmark. The best flavour comes from cod that has cured a minimum of 4 months and up to 9 months for superior maturation. It has a distinctive pale yellow colour and a delicate texture that flakes into huge pieces with a fork. The flavour is exquisite, mature and delicious.
In Portugal, there are hundreds of recipes for salt cod, a handful of which are cult classics. If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be bacalhau. I hope my guide will make you feel less intimidated and that I have somewhat demystified the process.
I have also cured my own cod at home when sourcing it online was impossible here in the UK.
It is a half-cure (meia cura), meaning the maturation and drying isn't carried out fully, but it still produces a gorgeous distinct flavour and texture change.
Check it out if you're feeling adventurous. Homemade Salt Cod (Bacalhau) ❦ Bacalhau de Meia Cura em Casa
Rinse cod under cold running water to remove excess thick salt layer.
Place rinsed cod, *skin side up, in a large bowl filled with cold water
Place bowl with cod in the refrigerator, ideally between 3°C (37°F) and 5°C (40°F)
Do not leave on the countertop at room temperature, your cod will spoil
Change the water according to the guide below
Once the salt cod has finished the desalting process, you can now use it in your recipes.
*Why skin side up? The reason being that the salt will sink as it is pulled into the water. If the skin was the other way around it would act as a barrier and salt would accumulate there instead of being pulled away.
Not using it right away? No problem, Pat dry on paper towels, wrap in aluminium foil and place in a plastic zip-top bag or suitable container. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 12 months
To thaw frozen desalted and rehydrated cod, take out of freezer and place in refrigerator 24 hours before use.
Salt cod special loin thickness after desalting and rehydrating....impressive and gorgeous!
Salt cod buying guide and sizes:
Dried salted cod pieces, often sold in 400- 500 g. packs (migas) : 6-8 hours, changing water every hour.
Salt cod cuts of miscellaneous small pieces and similar sizes think faces, wings, tails, small thin outer loins. 12- 24 hours with the water changed at least 2 times.
Salt Cod medium centre loins 24- 36 hours with 4 water changes This size of bacalhau is known as Corrente and Crescido, with Crescido weighing a bit more.
Salt cod centre cut thick loins 48- 55 hours with 6 water changes. This size of bacalhau is known as Graúdo.
Salt cod extra-thick jumbo loins ( usually from a cod fish weighing more than 3,0 kg) 72 hours, water changed every 6- 8 hours. This size of bacalhau is known as Especial.
Always use the thickest part of the fish and weight as your time guide. The thinner pieces can be soaked all together with thicker ones. Feel free to remove thinner pieces after their suggested soaking times if you wish, most Portuguese people do not do this and just leave them to soak together.
Here is a quick guide to names and weights
MIÚDO < 0,5 kg. This very small one is not readily available online in the UK.
CORRENTE – 0,5 kg --1 kg.
CRESCIDO – 1 kg --2 kg.
GRAÚDO – 2 kg -- 3 kg.
ESPECIAL – more than 3 kg.
Most Bacalhau in Portugal comes from Norway or Iceland and is prized for its superior quality.
Thicker and extra-thick loins: These extra special pieces are perfect for boiling, frying, grilling or oven roasting.
Like my Bacalhau da Consoada ❦ Christmas Eve's Salt Cod Dinner; Bacalhau Assado no Forno com Cebolada e Grão ❦ Roasted Salt Cod with Chickpeas Onions and Peppers; or my Cornmeal Crusted Fried Cod ❦ Bacalhau Fresco Frito
Dried shredded pieces (migas) and medium loins: For dishes which require a shredded cured cod like my Portuguese Salt Cod Croquettes with Aioli ❦ Pastéis de Bacalhau com Maionese de Alhos ;
Bacalhau à Zé do Pipo ❦ Salt Cod and Mashed Potato Casserole with Mayonnaise;
Bacalhau à Brás ❦ Salt Cod Hash