Accessible Algarve
A very Bad-Calhau Christmas
The beautiful result!

A very Bad-Calhau Christmas

First Published December 27th 2010 by Constance


Holidays mean food. I know there are religious, political and other cultural reasons, but it all comes down to food really. So we HAD to celebrate the first Christmas in Portugal as Portuguese as we could. And that means Bacalhau, salted cod. Or as we now call it, Bad-calhau.

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, is a codfish, potato and onion casserole with eggs and black olives sprinkled on top, loaded with garlic and olive oil.  Very traditional according to our well googled recipe:


“One of the most famous Portuguese bacalhau recipes.  …invented by a cook…whose father was a bacalhau trader himself  …worked in a restaurant in Porto.  His innovation was to marinate the cod flakes in warm milk in order to give the fish a softer texture.”

Bacalhau, or salted cod and rocket fuel espresso are the two main food groups of Portugal.  Holidays, people are in special lines with special number machines at the supermercados to buy so many planks of the stuff you would think they were building some sort of fishy crèche.

As self proclaimed Portuguese novos, the citizen and I embraced the meaning of the season and decided to make from stiff plank to table, a traditional Christmas Eve Bacalhau.  Making a tradional Bacalhau dish is something my friend, a modern Portuguese woman does not do from scratch, she buys her cod pre-soaked.  Não, none of that factory packed easy for me, agora estou poruguese (I am now Portuguese)!

Chistmas eve is on a Friday, so 2am on Tuesday, I begin soaking the stinky beasts in a huge old mixing bowl I shipped over.  History has it a great-great used this very same bowl for her bread-making back on the farm, it’s an heirloom.  There the cod sat on our washing machine out our balcony with windows…also known as my office, as it is the one place I am allowed to smoke.  There it sat, slowly turning into pieces of fish as I changed the water at least 3 times a day and poked and prodded at its parts.  Then I added my little secret to tasty bacalhau….Friday around 2am, yes, do tend to wander around the apartment in the wee hours, I drained the water and treated my now completely fish looking parts to a nice milk bath, this I have heard is THE one thing that will make the end product fabulous.

 Bowl Bac picked

That night all the ingredients are assembled and ready;  dried salted cod, new potatoes, gallons of olive oil (or azeite, the proper word for olive oil here in the “hood”), garlic, garlic, garlic, a large onion, pepper, hard boiled eggs, black olives, fresh parsley.

Bachalhau ingredients

After I scalded the cod in boiling water, I have to pick the tiny little pieces of edible bits from the bones and the skin.  It took forever, 2 glasses of wine at least!  From the stinky planks, I had two handfuls of useful but still stinky stuff left, and wrinkled stinky fingers.  It then had to rest in warm milk for an hour while I boiled the potatoes and sautéed the onion and tons of garlic in lots of the fabulous azeite (see above).  When the potatoes were cooled, they were sliced and fried in more of the same fab azeite.  Are you with me so far…garlic, olive oil, onions, potatoes…sounds mouth watering, we are having a wonderful time, just great music, great wine and the building of the bacalhau, bom festa!

Picking the bachalauWeird does not cover how this felt

In the terra cotta baking dish we picked up at the big “Loja Chinesa” for a crazy low price, I carefully layered my bacalhau lasagna:  first olive oil, potatoes, parsley and pepper, some of the onion and garlic, the cod, then the rest of the potatoes, the onions and garlic, pepper and parsley.  We just ooooohed and awwwwed.  Then we turned on the oven.

Whoops, a couple of weeks ago I had baked some chicken wings and my baking dish I shipped over broke in half in the oven, well, I’m not used to the gas oven.  I didn’t clean the oven.  There was a bit of smoke…well, the kitchen was thick with it.  After an hour of dealing with it and getting it manageable, more wine was involved, the blessed Christmas dish was carefully placed into the still smoky oven to turn into bacalhau that would make our historic and innovative Chef Gomes proud.

Garnished with the sliced boiled eggs, black olives and parsley, it looked just like the picture.  Cloth napkins, fado on the CD player, we are having our first authentic Christmas Eve home-made Bacalhau, we toast, we smile, we taste….we….hate it. Really, hate it, not just, “well, it’s OK”, it was bad.

Then we think back, have we liked anything with the word bacalhau in it?  No, not really, so perhaps, if I was really Portuguese and everyone was gathered around the table after midnight mass, it would be a huge hit and every bite would be gone.

Either way, next Christmas Eve, the citizen and I are passing on the bacalhau, I am going to work on my Açorda de marisco.

P.S.  We were visiting two authentic Portuguese friends this afternoon, it came out that neither of them truly like Bacalhau and only eat it to please their mothers, I suspect their mothers really don’t like it either.

Pin It


Help us make the Algarve Accessible!


Subscribe Now

* Please use a valid email address as a confirmation will be sent to the address specified.