A Brief Introduction to Bacalhau, Portugal’s Most Treasured Dish

Salted cod in Portugal
Salted cod in Portugal | © Pixabay
Nina Santos

Listening to the Portuguese talk about bacalhau (cod in English) may remind you of the shrimp scene in Forrest Gump. In the words of Bubba, you can boil it, barbecue it, bake it, broil it, eat it with potatoes, eat it with rice, and much more. Bacalhau is a staple in Portuguese cuisine with what’s believed to be nearly 1,000 ways to serve it.

Where does bacalhau come from?

Knowing how integral bacalhau is in Portuguese cuisine may make anyone believe that it is caught off the Portuguese coast, but it’s not. Actually, bacalhau is caught in much colder waters near Norway, Iceland, and Newfoundland in Canada. The popularity among the Portuguese dates back to before the Age of Discoveries (15th-18th centuries), when Portuguese sailors traveled the world, sometimes spending months abroad relying on fish as a food source. In fact, the beginning of bacalhau in Portugal may have started as an inexpensive and easy-to-preserve substitute for Catholics required to forgo land-based meat during holidays and other religious events.

Bacalhau recipe

Why is bacalhau dried and salted in Portugal?

Bacalhau at the supermarket

The many faces of bacalhau

More restaurants serve bacalhau than not. A challenge would be finding the latter.

One of the easier-to-make recipes is called Bacalhau à Lagareiro. It’s cod fillets that have been baked in the oven and served with potatoes and smothered in olive oil (another Portuguese staple). When visiting the center of Portugal – near Viseu – this may be among the more common recipes that you’ll find.

In Lisbon, Bacalhau à Brás is an all-time favorite. The fish is shredded and baked (bound with eggs) and mixed with equally small bits of potatoes. Usually, Bacalhau à Brás is topped with olives and parsley for a flavorful and aromatic addition.

Bacalhau is the main dish served during the holidays, especially Christmas Eve and Easter, and some families prepare multiple recipes with this main ingredient. One side dish that the Portuguese love is called Bolinhos de Bacalhau or Pastéis de Bacalhau. These fried fishcakes go by a different name based on the region where they are prepared. The fish is mixed with egg, potatoes, onion, and parsley before being rolled into balls, breaded and fried. They are also wonderful appetizers that many restaurants and bars offer as snacks.

Bolinhos de bacalhau

Easily one of the most flavorful, but most time consuming recipes is Bacalhau com Natas (cod in cream). Talk about comfort food! This casserole-style dish is baked in the oven mixed with heavy cream, potatoes, and onions. Since it takes a little more time to make it’s not always on the menu, but it is worth ordering when it’s offered.

Different chefs and restaurants may have their own special way or twist of cooking bacalhau, and trying the different recipes throughout the country is a fun way to experience Portugal.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article