Portuguese Christmas Eve Cod (Bacalhau de Consoada)
Cod — a moist, white, flaky fish — is so adored by the Portuguese that they've invented at least 365 ways to cook it. But dried salt cod, not fresh, is the cod of choice, says David Leite, author of The New Portuguese Table. Originally commercialized by the Basques, this method of preserving cod was adopted by the Portuguese as the answer to the large number of meatless days imposed by the Catholic Church, Leite says. "The tradition is to eat salt cod — Bacalhau de Consoada — after Christmas Eve mass," he adds. "The Portuguese don't like to waste anything. So after the spirits have 'eaten' their share overnight, the leftovers are chopped and sautéed with butter and cream and served as Roupa Velha — literally translated as "old clothes" — for Christmas lunch."
Adapted from Edite Vieira's The Taste of Portugal.
2 pounds salt cod, cut into 6 fillets
For the sauce
1 1/8 cups olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 teaspoons wine vinegar
12 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, boiled in their skins and peeled while still hot
1 large head cabbage, cut into 6 pieces and blanched until just tender
1. Rinse the cod under cold running water to remove any surface salt. Place the fish pieces in a large nonreactive pot, cover with water, and refrigerate (covered) for 24 hours, changing the water several times.
2. Pour off the water and refill with enough boiling water to cover the fish by several inches. Cover the pan with a heavy dish towel, and let the cod soak in the hot water for 30 minutes. Test to see if the fish flakes easily; if not, simmer gently until it does. Drain the cod and remove any bits of skin or bone.
3. To make the sauce, bring the oil and garlic to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar, and beat well.
4. To serve, place 1 cod fillet, 2 eggs (4 halves), and equal portions of the potato and cabbage on each plate. Drizzle with the sauce.
Note: Look for salt cod in specialty stores or at the online site La Tienda (tienda.com). All these ingredients should be cooked at the last minute, just before serving, so they can be brought to the table at their best.