Last updated on 17-Sep-2023
Loved all around the country and beyond, this Portuguese classic is a popular favourite at restaurants and homes, for locals and foreigners alike. The name means “Brás-style Cod” (Brás is supposedly the name of its creator), and it is said to have originated in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood in Lisbon.
Bacalhau à Brás is a comforting mix of sautéed onions, shredded cod, and fried potatoes, all happily combined with eggs, usually garnished with black olives and sprinkled with fresh parsley. It is also a favourite of mine. I confess it is hard to resist when I see it on a restaurant menu, but I try to be strong and order different dishes, and have discovered many other delicious options along the way.
As much as I love this dish as it is below, I also believe we can “Brás-ify” other ingredients (basically any shredded meat and/or different chopped vegetables) by cooking them in the same way with the onions, eggs and potatoes, to make a unique creation with what we have on hand or prefer. I have also shared an amazing vegetarian version (Brás-style Vegetables) that is a total winner!
As a former colony of Portugal, Brazil kept more than the language from these European settlers. Their influence on the culture and cuisine is very significant, and many traditional Portuguese dishes were very familiar to me while I was growing up. I don’t remember the first time I tried Bacalhau à Brás, but when I saw it offered at Portuguese restaurants in Canada and then all around in Portugal when we started visiting, I already knew I liked it!
Visits to Portugal (or to a Portuguese restaurant or celebration) usually involve plenty of food. Portuguese cuisine is comforting and multifaceted, with something for every taste, budget, and occasion.
The ingredients in this dish are not exotic or surprising, but this tasty combo is way more than the sum of its parts. Potatoes are extremely common in Portuguese cuisine. Many traditional dishes include this ingredient in the preparation, while others are served with them as a side dish, along with a fresh salad or other vegetables. It is not uncommon to see places that serve their dishes accompanied by both rice AND potatoes – a tempting carb overload!
The country has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita and is among the top four in the world. Due to its privileged position in the Atlantic, extensive coastline, and well-developed fishing industry, it is known for the fresh seafood probably as much as for the myriad of ways they prepare salted cod (bacalhau), the type of fish most consumed and the quintessential Portuguese ingredient.
Cod is mostly found dried and salted. The Portuguese have been fishing and trading cod since the 15th century, before the invention of refrigeration, and salt has been used to preserve the fish ever since. Dry cod needs to be soaked to remove the salt and rehydrate before using it.
I have heard that there are 365 salted cod dishes, one for each day of the year, but this ingredient is so widely used in Portuguese cuisine that I suspect there may be even more!
Portuguese cuisine also has Mediterranean influences – demonstrated in their love of olive oil, the use of fresh vegetables, herbs, bread, and other humble ingredients. Other influences come from Portugal’s former colonies around the globe and the earlier times of spice trade, which are mainly manifested in the variety of spices used in both sweet and savoury preparations. But despite the love affair with the sea and its flavours, meat lovers and vegetarians will not be disappointed in the food either. Portugal has tons of traditional recipe options (or possible ingredient substitutions) to satisfy all dietary preferences and lifestyles. It is surprising that the Portuguese managed to concentrate so much variety in a relatively small landmass, with each different region of the country offering distinct traditions and ingredient combinations.
Ready to make this classic at home and take your tastebuds on a trip to Portugal?
Cod with Eggs and Potatoes | Bacalhau a Brás
- 500 g dry salted cod (about 1lb) boneless bits, soaked to remove excess salt
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion large, sliced thin
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 6 eggs
- 2 tbsp milk or water
- 300 g potato sticks
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup parsley fresh, chopped, for serving
- olives black or green, for serving
- Shred "raw" soaked cod by hand into small pieces taking out any leftover bones. (This can be done in advance, and the fish can be kept in the fridge for about 2 days to be used in this dish or other preparation of your choice that calls for boneless shredded cod)
- Heat olive oil in a large pan, add the onions and the bay leaf. Cook over medium heat until the onions start to caramelize. Add the minced garlic, pepper flakes (if using), and sauté until fragrant. Add the shredded cod and cook for a few minutes until the fish turns opaque. Adjust the salt (if needed) and add black pepper to taste.
- Add half of the potatoes to the pan and mix gently to moisten and heat up.
- Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs with the milk (or water) until combined, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and reserve.
- Lower the heat, remove the bay leaf, add the egg mixture to the pan and let it cook slowly, folding it gently into the cod mixture.
- Once the eggs are starting to set but are still creamy and soft, turn off the heat (do not overcook the mixture!), add the remaining potatoes and mix. These potatoes should remain a bit crispy.
- Serve immediately topped with chopped parsley and decorated with olives. I also like to finish with a drizzle of good olive oil. This dish goes well with a fresh salad - lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, onions, etc. - on the side.
- If not pre-soaked and "ready to cook", soak cod in the fridge in a bowl with plenty of cold water for 6 hours to overnight (large pieces of cod will need to be soaked longer), changing the water 1-2 times.
- The eggs should be soft and creamy upon serving. If they cook too long, you'll have "scrambled eggs with cod" instead 😉