Açorda de Bacalhau, Portuguese Bread Stew with Salt Cod

Acorda de Bacalhau (Salt Cod)
Photo by Con Poulos / Food Styling by Hadas Smirnof

Courtesy Carlos Carreira, co-owner, Adega, San Jose, CA

Salt cod, or bacalhau, is a common Portuguese ingredient. It’s simply cod that’s been salted and dried as a preservation technique, but it also concentrates flavors. It’s easy to find, and while preparation is time-consuming (a long soak removes excess saltiness and restores texture), it’s simple to make.

“Açorda is one of the most authentic Portuguese dishes, and it always must include bread, water, garlic, cilantro, olive oil and eggs,” says Carreira. This version is a “dry” açorda (some have a soupier texture), gilded with a simply grilled fillet of cod.

Four Fresh Takes on Portuguese Cooking
  • 2 pounds boneless salt cod, preferably from the loin
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 12 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 ounces day-old bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan and finishing
  • 2 cups chicken broth, plus more, if necessary
  • ¾ cup packed cilantro
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 egg yolks, at room temperature

Soak cod for 2 days, changing water 3 times daily. Cut 4 evenly sized fillets from thickest part of fish, set aside, and cut the rest into small pieces. Put trimmings in pot with bay leaves, onion, one-third of chopped garlic and 5 cups water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat. Simmer 15 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and discarding bay leaves. Flake cod and set aside.

Cover bread with hot tap water and soak 1 hour, or until soft. Drain, pressing out excess water.

Heat oven to 400°F. Warm large ovenproof grill or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Coat with olive oil, and add cod fillets. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer to oven. Cook for 6 minutes, or just until opaque in center.

Meanwhile, warm ¼ cup olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add remaining chopped garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add bread and broth (add more if bread soaks up most of liquid quickly). Cook, stirring, until mixture takes creamy, thick consistency of porridge. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to pull from the sides of the pan in single mass. Stir in flaked cod and cilantro. Add salt, if necessary.

To serve, divide açorda among 4 plates. Make cavity in middle of each plate. Place raw egg yolk in cavity, lay cod fillet alongside and drizzle olive oil on top. Instruct diners to stir yolk into açorda to cook. Serves 4.

Pair It

Herdade do Esporão 2015 Reserva Branco (Alentejo); $20, 90 points. Carreira says, “Açorda de bacalhau is most popular in the southern region of the Alentejo, so I suggest a well-structured white made from the local Antão Vaz grape and aged in French oak.” This wine blends Antão Vaz with Arinto and Roupeiro. It boasts a creamy texture, with spicy and toasty notes that echo the dish’s fall flavors.

Published on September 22, 2017
About the Author
Nils Bernstein
Contributing Editor, Food

A fan of sweet wines, sour beers, and old-school Rioja, Bernstein is an exhaustive traveler in search of new and unsung chefs and restaurants, innovative wine and food pairings, and eating and drinking at the source. In addition to Wine Enthusiast, Bernstein has written for Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, New York Times, Men’s Fitness, Hemispheres, and Kinfolk, among others.

Email: nbernstein@wineenthusiast.net

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