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…
Now that the cod is prepared, lets move onto the potatoes…
Now lets work with the onions… this part of the preparation is very similar to my Cebolada post less the tomatoes.
Now that all three elements of the recipe are ready, we can start to build…
Recipe for Baked Salt Cod Casserole (Bacalhau Assado):
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
2 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
1/2 tsp. Portuguese Allspice
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.
*Note: This is a gluten-free recipe.