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 this 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 (Leeks with Eggs and Potatoes) 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.
I’ve had Bacalhau à Brás made with potato sticks, fried potato cubes, and boiled potato pieces mashed a bit. They are all delicious, but the extra crunch we get from the sticks is my favourite. Feel free to try the potatoes in the texture that you prefer.
For the fried potato sticks, I quite like these, but any (store-bought or homemade) will work.
Ready to make this classic at home and take your tastebuds on a trip to Portugal?
Cod with Eggs and Potatoes | Bacalhau a Brás
- 400-500 g dry salted cod (about 1lb) boneless bits, if available
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion large, sliced thin
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 6 eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 300 g potato sticks or 450-500g (1lb) potatoes, peeled, cubbed and fried or boiled
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup parsley fresh, chopped, for serving
- olives black or green, for serving
- Soak cod bits in plenty of cold water for 4-6 hours (or overnight), changing the water a couple of times. Larger pieces of cod will need to be soaked longer.
- Boil cod in a fresh pot of water for 10-15 mins, drain, let cool enough to handle, and shred into small pieces taking out any leftover bones. (This can be done in advance, and the fish can be kept in the fridge for a few days to be used in this dish or other preparation of your choice that calls for cod in small pieces. You can also pulse the boiled pieces in the food processor for a finer texture)
- Heat olive oil in a large pot, add the onions and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the bay leaf, minced garlic, pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant. Add the boiled shredded cod and cook for a few minutes to blend the flavours. Adjust the salt (if needed) and add black pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the milk until well combined, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and reserve.
- Add 1/3 of the potato sticks to the pot and mix gently to moisten. If using potato cubes, skip this step.
- Add the egg mixture to the pan and let it cook slowly, folding it gently into the cod mixture. Do not overcook it!
- Once the eggs have started to set but are still soft, turn off the heat, add most of the remaining potato sticks (or all the potato cubes), and mix. These potatoes should remain a bit crispy. If using, reserve some potato sticks for serving.
- Remove the bay leaf. Serve topped with the extra potatoes, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil. Decorate with olives. Goes well with a fresh salad - lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, onions, etc. - on the side.
- I've had Bacalhau à Brás made with potato sticks, fried potato cubes, or boiled potato pieces mashed a bit. They are all delicious, but the extra crunch we get from the sticks is my favourite. Feel free to try the potatoes in the texture that you prefer.