Adapted from a chef Manuel Azevedo recipe
Traditionally this dish is serves as a casserole. Chef Azevedo, born on the island of São Jorge in the Azores, turns this Portuguese dish upside down. This allows the exposed codfish to brown slightly and the layer of potatoes on the bottom to crisp.
Note: The picture of Chef Azevedo’s casserole looked so appealing I had to try to use this inverted casserole myself. There are several tricks to this technique and you need to cook the casserole on an un-lipped cookie sheet. You will eventually need to slide the casserole off the sheet and onto a serving platter.
You will not find salt cod in most supermarkets. In San Jose, you go where the Portuguese get their cod for this dish. L & F Fish Market and Bacalhau Grill & Trade Rite Market are a block apart, on either side of 101. Both carry a wide selection of the specialty products that you need for Portuguese/Azores dishes. The Bacalhau Grill has the added advantage that, if you do not want to cook yourself, the food is there and ready to serve.
Piri-piri is an African hot pepper sauce popular in the Azores. There are recipes for making it yourself, but unless you have access to real piri-piri chilies it will not be the same. Fortunately, for me both of the stores in San Jose carried the real thing.
The original recipe I am adapting from was designed for a very large group. While I have wanted to try salt cod for years, Jan had always discouraged the very idea. Today, I was making enough of two other dishes, steamed clams and caldo verde, that I could at least try it, even if I was the only one willing to eat it.
After Dinner Note: In juggling three dishes, I forgot to parboil the potatoes. They came out slightly underdone. The transferring of the casserole to a serving plate was also difficult. The casserole sticks to the cookie sheet and there are no binders to hold the fish mixture together after it has cooked. As a result, the whole dish flopped onto the serving plate in a mass. This was not quite the presentation I was going for.
Karl’s Portuguese Salt Cod and Potato Casserole
1 lb. salt cod
4 small red potatoes
4 small Yukon gold potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil, separate uses
1 large yellow onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of nutmeg
½ tsp. white pepper, to taste
4 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 Tbs. chopped flat-leafed parsley
1. Rinse the cod under cold running water to remove any surface salt.
2. Place the fish in a large nonreactive pot, cover with water and refrigerate (covered) for 24 hours, changing the water several times.
3. Half fill a large pot with water, and put the eggs in the cold water. Bring the pot to a boil.
4. Add the fish and gently boil the cod until it flakes easily with a fork, about 7 to 10 minutes.
Tip: I had pieces of cod that were thick at the top with a thin sheet hanging at the bottom. I cut the thin parts away from the thick parts. I removed the thin pieces from the pot after seven minutes and the thicker parts I cooked for 10 minutes.
5. Remove, cool and peel the eggs. Reserve the eggs for later.
6. Slice the potatoes into ¼ inch slices and parboil them in the fish water for eight minutes. Remove, cool and reserve the potatoes.
Note: Another one of my dishes called for peeled tomatoes. Before I discarded the fish water, I blanched the tomatoes in this hot water.
7. Slice the onion into thin wedges—pole to pole.
8. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over a medium heat, and sauté the onions until just starting to brown. Add the garlic, cook a minute more and transfer them to a large mixing bowl.
9. Flake the cod into the bowl with the onions.
Tip: I bought cod that had already been de-boned, but be sure to remove any bones or bits of skin that remain.
10. Add the nutmeg, white pepper, and two tablespoons of olive oil to the fish and onions. Toss lightly to mix.
Tip: You want the fish and onions well mixed, but you do not want to break up the fish flakes too much.
11. Line a casserole with plastic wrap.
Tip: The plastic wrap is to prevent bots of the ingredients from sticking to the casserole. You want to choose a casserole that is deep enough to take all of the ingredients, but not so deep that the ingredients flop down and separate when you invert the casserole.
12. Brush the bottom of the casserole with two tablespoons of butter and arrange six pretty slices of the potato in the center. Alternate the red and yellow slices.
Tip: Some decisions are all about the appearance of the dish. I planned for these potatoes to form a flower shape on, what will eventually be, the top of the casserole.
13. Pour the fish mixture over the potatoes and pack it down tightly.
Tip: I used a flat round steamer tray to press down on the fish.
14. Cover the codfish with the potato slices.
Tip: Starting at the outside edge of the casserole, lay down overlapping slices of the potatoes. Alternate the red and yellow potatoes and save the smaller and irregular pieces for the center.
15. Brush the potatoes with the remaining butter.
16. Cover the casserole and refrigerate it for 20 minutes.
17. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, place it over the casserole and invert.
18. Carefully remove the casserole dish and the plastic wrap. Try to keep the cod mixture intact.
A Tip from Leite’s Culinaria: If you prefer well-done potatoes, leave the inverted casserole dish in place and cook for the recommended time, then uncover and continue cooking until the codfish is lightly toasted. The additional time will allow the potatoes to get extra-brown.
19. Bake in a preheated, 400° F oven for 30 minutes, or until cod is lightly toasted.
Tip: Place a large lipped tray on the rack under the casserole to catch any drips.
20. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and use a spatula to loosen any potatoes stuch to the tray.
21. Slide the casserole onto a serving platter and garnish with the flat leafed parsley.
22. Cut the eggs into quarters—pole to pole—and arrange them over the casserole.
23. Serve warm with pipi-piri on the side.