Bacalhau à Bras and Takeout

I was never a huge fan of fish. Sure, I love eating salmon, sushi and sashimi, but eating plain white fish never really appealed to me unless it was battered and deep fried with a side of chips. However, Portugal is all about seafood and they love something called bacalhau, which is dried salt codfish.

Bacalau
Bacalhau (dried and salted codfish)

They use bacalhau in all sorts of dishes and one of the first ones I discovered when I was in Portgual is called bacalhau à bras (sometimes spelled as “braz”). I wasn’t really sure what I was going to end up with and was worried when the server said what I interpreted as “pan fried fish with potatoes”, but thankfully it was much better than I anticipated! Rather than just a plain fish dish, I discovered that bacalhau à bras is a rice dish mixed with shredded bacalhau, onions, matchstick potatoes, olives, and egg. Sometimes it’s sprinkled with parsley (see next picture) and comes with a light salad of lettuce and tomato (this one had an additional ingredient – cabbage).

Bacalau à bras

It was like a fried rice, only with Portugal’s beloved fish and potatoes. The dish was quite heavy since it was full of carbs and protein, but I instantly fell in love with it. It wasn’t too salty, it had multiple textures and it tasted absolutely delicious. So much that I had it several times while I was there and it felt very much like a comfort food. And truthfully, the ingredients mix so naturally well together that there aren’t many spices added to the dish.

Bacalau à bras
Bacalau à bras

The only thing to determine when you eat bacalhau à bras is whether the establishment cleaned out all the bones from the fish. The last thing you want to do is choke!

As a random side note, I found it interesting that the Portuguese culture doesn’t really support the “takeout” lifestyle that we have in North America. I was stuffed to the brim eating this lovely dish and wanted to take the remainder back to my hotel, but first I had to overcome the very confusing conversation (again, language barrier) with the server when he said I would have to pay extra to do so. Not only that, but they didn’t have any plastic cutlery. I hypothesize this lack of takeout culture in Portugal exists for several reasons: 1) They don’t condone eating alone and see mealtime as a way of being social and interacting with friends and family. So if you go to a restaurant, you sit and eat at the restaurant. 2) They are really good at keeping their country clean, so reducing or eliminating the ideology of takeout containers and utensils helps with the preservation. After concluding this, I actually think it’s a good thing. Why don’t we do that over here?

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. These dishes look so good! I’ve tried using Baccalu once. It was a very long process, and the smell was not too appealing. I would definitely love to have it at a restaurant instead!
    Interesting to read about the takeout differences!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rini says:

      Thanks Ronit! I hear it is a very difficult fish to use because it’s so hard and dry, but I think the flavors make the effort worth it. Then again, restaurants work too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s definitely a tasty but tough ingredient to work with.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so enjoying learning about your time in Portugal, Rini. And all the fabulous food. This dish sounds delicious – I have no aversion to carb-comfort meals! I particularly love your comment about their approach to food – I have found this is common in Europe. They see food as a celebration to be shared with family and friends. Great post x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rini says:

      Thanks so much Tracey! I agree with their approach – eating together as opposed to the “grab n’ go” mentality. As busy as life gets, it’s important to connect with others. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sean JS Chen says:

    The bacalhau à bras really reminds me of Cantonese “salt fish and chicken fried rice” (鹹魚雞粒炒飯) http://lengskitchen.blogspot.ca/2012/12/fried-rice-with-salted-fish-and-chicken.html I wonder if there is a historical connection here…

    Come to think of it, you could probably substitute the salt cod fer the salt fish in the Chinese dish!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rini says:

      Being a salt fiend, I love eating that salt fish and chicken fried rice. The bacalhau à bras is nowhere near as salty, but it’s still good in a different way. I can’t recall any Asian ties in Portugal, but there were definitely Spanish and Moorish influences.

      Liked by 1 person

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