When it comes out of the oven, grab some olive oil, drizzle... grab some olives and sliced hard boiled eggs (2) and decorate the top.

Baked Salt Cod Casserole (Bacalhau Assado)

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The Italians have lasagna, the Greeks have moussaka, the Mexicans have enchiladas and the Portuguese have Bacalhau Assado.  Whatever the country, a time consuming casserole dish filled with beautiful food is a cherished part of family gatherings and family dinners alike. I truly believe these dishes are where the phrase “Food of Love” was started. We Portuguese love our salt cod, so it is only natural that our most loved casserole has salt cod as the star.  Derived from a country that has deep seeded roots as sea-faring navigators and fisherman, the Portuguese introduced Salt Cod to most of Europe.  We have dozens upon dozens, perhaps even hundreds of recipes for salt cod and not any that I can think of for fresh cod.  I suppose we wouldn’t need any recipes for fresh cod as salt cod is not only more delicious, but also considered a great comfort food.  As a matter of fact, as I write this now, I can recall it has always just been naturally assumed in my family that when speaking of “cod fish” we think salt cod, not fresh.  This became apparent to me later in life when at an American sea food restaurant where Atlantic Cod was served topped with little buttery cracker crumbs… I was almost confused to think of it fresh like some might be confused to think of bacon as fresh pork.

Portuguese Baked Salt Cod Casserole (Bacalhau Assado) is a serious dish for serious food lovers.  Layers of carefully constructed sliced potatoes, salt cod and sautéed onions (Cebolada)  all baked together and topped with boiled eggs and olives and infused with good olive oil to form the perfect balance of flavors, this dish has it all.

In my family, as I am quite sure in many Portuguese families, this wonderful creation is enjoyed at many a social gathering… but, most especially the holidays.  A nice tray or casserole dish of Bacalhau Assado sits right near the Shrimp Mozambique and the Polvo (Octopus) each year at Christmas!  A more delicious site has yet to be created!

Many of the recipes I post here on thePortugueseAmericanMom.com are easy, simple, inexpensive and quick. This is not one of those recipes.  Although this dish is not at all complicated, it does require the coordination of several different steps and so is definitely not something that can get done in under a half hour.  It is a labor of love and worth every minute!

Let’s start with the star ingredient… the cod fish…

Salt Cod at Portugalia Marketplace in Fall River, MA

With so much to choose from, it can be difficult to select just the right cut. I like to make my life a little bit easier, so I usually go for something without bones! 2 lbs. please :)

Here is what I brought home.

Just look at all that salt! Most of that will need to be removed for the cod to be edible.

Some people like to soak the fish overnight, which works well too… accept you will need to change the water a few times as it does tend to need more than just a soak… Me, I like to boil the salt out.

Boil and drain, this process will need to happen 2-3 times depending on just how salty the fish is and what your taste is… I like the fish to have a good amount of salt flavor, because otherwise what’s the point right? So, I try to keep the boiling process down to twice… Don’t forget this fish needs to stand up to potatoes and onions.

Gently with your hand, flake off chunks of fish to separate.

This is the broken up cod… you don’t want to mash it, you want it chunky.

Now that the cod is prepared, lets move onto the potatoes…

These are Yukon Gold potatoes... Any kind of all-purpose white potato will work as well.

These are Yukon Gold potatoes… Any kind of all-purpose white potato will work as well.

Peel the potatoes and place them in a cold pot, then fill with cold water and a nice pinch of salt.

Look how golden these turned when cooked.

You want to thinly slice your potatoes, but you also want them to not fall apart… Just find a happy medium and whatever you are comfortable with will work.

Now lets work with the onions… this part of the preparation is very similar to my Cebolada post less the tomatoes.

Start by slicing some onions, I like a varying slice, some thick some super thin.

Add onions to a hot pan with olive oil and add just a small pinch of salt… Saute over medium heat until tender.

One the onions have become tender, add in ground red pepper, minced garlic and Portuguese Allspice.

When your onions get to this stage, they are ready to go. (They should no longer be stiff at all, but not mushy either… you are looking for a medium bodied onion that is very flexible, this still needs to be baked once incorporated into the dish)

Now that all three elements of the recipe are ready, we can start to build…

Now start building the final product in your casserole dish… This recipe will fill a 9″x13″ pan.  Add in a drizzle of olive oil to coat the bottom of the baking dish. I prefer either glass or stone as seen here… If using a metal pan, be sure to coat bottom and sides well. (I would even spread it around with a paper towel if using metal)

This is a simple layering process. Start with one even layer of potatoes. You will use about 1/3 of your sliced potatoes.

Now add in an even layer of onions. You should use about 1/3 of your onions.

Now for the cod fish. You will need about 1/2 of your fish now… I don’t like to put too much cod on top as I feel like it gets dried out, so sometimes I reserve a few pieces for the top, but I didn’t do that today.

Spread evenly atop the onions. I like to drizzle just a little olive oil at this point.

In the middle is when you want to use any potatoes that are not perfectly round due to falling apart in the cutting process… you want the bottom to be solid and the top to be pretty… So here they are.

Keep layering in that order… Potatoes, onions, cod…

Once you reach the top, finish you should have onions on top… Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350°F oven for one hour. Then bake uncovered for about 15 minutes.

When it comes out of the oven, grab some olive oil, drizzle… grab some olives and sliced hard-boiled eggs (2) and decorate the top.

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Serve hot… but, it’s still yummy when cooled a bit!

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Recipe for Baked Salt Cod Casserole (Bacalhau Assado):

(serves 8-10)

2 lbs. salt cod, deboned

4 1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled

5 large onions, sliced

1 heaping Tbs. ground red pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup olive oil, divided

12 olives

2 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced

1/2 tsp. Portuguese Allspice

kosher salt

Directions:

Start by washing and then boiling the cod fish.  Drain and boil again.  Drain and flake into chunks.  Set aside.

In a large pot, boil (in lightly salted water)peeled potatoes.  Allow to cool a bit and slice.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, saute onions until tender.  Add in garlic, red pepper and Allspice.  Add in a small pinch of salt.  Saute until very flexible, but not mushy.

In a 9″x13″ casserole dish, layer ingredients.  Start with olive oil, then 1/3 potatoes, then 1/3 onions, then 1/2 the cod, then drizzle with olive oil and repeat using the next 1/3 potatoes, the next 1/3 onions and the remaining cod.  To finish add the remaining potatoes then the remaining onions.  Drizzle with olive oil again, cover with foil and bake at 350°F for one hour.  Remove foil and continue to bake for 15 minutes.

Top with sliced hard-boiled egg and olives.

Enjoy!

*Note: This is a gluten-free recipe.