For some reasons, this stew reminds me so much of home: Macau, my family and my childhood. From the moment the stew started bubbling on the stove, the distant but familiar aroma escaped from the pot, which I have known since I was a child; to every bite of this dish, the combination of the different tastes and textures were in fact something that I have been longing for – without knowing and unable to describe. But why am I telling you this? I know it probably might not be so relevant to you, but I am convinced that everyone has a dish/food that they once loved but somehow its existence has buried under their many other recent memories. For me, this salt cod stew is one of them, I love and enjoy every bite and every taste of this dish, it reminds me of the many trips our family made to our favourite Portuguese restaurant, where we enjoyed its food immensely. Because of this, Portuguese food became part of our family food culture, it was just as important as Chinese food in our family. But somehow I have forgotten many of these delectable Portuguese dishes since I moved away from home.
I made this stew twice in the last two weeks, not only because I needed to perfect the recipe for this blog post, but also I couldn’t shake off the feeling of traveling back to my childhood while eating this dish. Well, I think I have much need to plan a trip back home very soon as I reckon this is part of the syndrome of homesickness.
Apart from planning 24 hours ahead to desalinate the bacalhau, and preparing the other ingredients for the stew, there is hardly any active cooking involved. If you aren’t sure about the level of saltiness of the bacalhau and whether it is ready to go into the stew after the requested timeline, just cut a small piece and cook it in boiling water for a couple of minutes, and have a taste. It should be slightly on the salty side but not overwhelming.
You can use fresh cod instead if you can’t find Bacalhau, although it won’t taste the same but it will still be delicious! One thing though, please reduce the cooking time to 45 minutes. (A friend has made this recipe with fresh cod and he liked it a lot and has recommended to his friends as well)
It sounds like there is much of olive oil going into the dish, but it helps bringing all the flavours of the ingredients together and trust me, the finish dish doesn’t taste oily at all!
I love serving this stew with steamed rice but it is commonly served with warm crusty bread.
Do not skip the fresh coriander, sprinkle it generously on your portion, it really brightens up the rich and wholesome flavour of the stew.
recipe adapted from ‘Taste of Macau’ cookbook by Annabel Jackson
- 600g Bacalhao (salted cod)
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced crosswise
- 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 400g Potato, peeled and sliced
- 1 bell pepper (red, green or yellow), halved, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
- 2 large ripped tomato, sliced crosswise
- 80g black olives with stone (or pitted, preferable Spanish or Portuguese)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 large bay leaf (or 2-3 small)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- A small bunch of fresh coriander (leaves and soft stems) roughly chopped
To prepare the bacalhau: the fish needs to be desalinated 24 hour before you want to make this stew, first rinse off the salt and submerge the fish in water, covered and leave it for 24 hours. Change water 3 to 4 times, or every few hours (it depends on the salted cod, some need less time about 12 hours). Drain the cod and pad dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper. Remove the skin and bone if there is any, tear with your hands or cut the cod into little bigger than bite size pieces (as fish will fall apart after cooking, so you don’t want to cut them too small). Set aside.
In a casserole, layer half of the onions, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, cod and olives, add the bay leaf then repeat the layering until all ingredients are in the casserole.
Add a few turns of freshly ground black pepper. Pour in the water and drizzle all the olive oil evenly on the mixture.
Cover the casserole with a tight fitted lid, bring the content to boil and immediately turn the heat down to as low as possible, simmer gently for 1.5 hours. Keep the lid on at all time and just gently shake the casserole occasionally during cooking to make sure nothing stick to the bottom.
After 1.5 hours, remove the lid and stir once to combine the sauce with everything else together, check the seasoning. Add salt if needed (very unlikely you will need to).
Serve the stew with generous amount of sauce in a warm plate and sprinkle freshly chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with slices of warm crusty bread to soak up all the lovely flavours.