The way I prepare Bacalhau for the Consoada ( Portuguese Christmas Eve)

Food is a serious matter in Portugal! Everyone will tell you that in Portugal, when a family or friends reunion happens, people spend hours at the table, talking, laughing, and enjoying the starters, the main courses, the desserts, the coffee, the digestives, the drinks, red wine, champagne, Port Wine, Ginginha, and more!

For Christmas Eve, many Portuguese have a light dinner called Consoada. Portugal is still a very Catholic country and being so it's natural that many abstain from eating meat, opting instead for fish - mainly codfish - or seafood dishes. In some regions, people eat octopus instead of cod, either roasted with potatoes or mixed with rice. Christmas sometimes falls on a Friday, the traditional day of abstinence to the Catholic Church. But it's more than that. Most European cultures developed Christmas Eve customs that included meatless meals before the family went off to Midnight Mass. In ancient times a day of fasting and abstinence was designed to heighten the joy of the celebration to come.

The main fish of choice is, of course, usually bacalhau, the salted-dry fish that's the king of Portuguese cuisine. The way bacalhau is eaten on Consoada - Christma's Eve night - is very simple and I never enjoyed that recipe very much. Usually, I give it a twist, I transform the simple recipe into one that is more to my liking. The bacalhau of Consoada is just cod boiled with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs, all drizzled with olive oil vinegar, and minced garlic. 

To prepare a bacalhau dish is indispensable to follow a procedure to remove the salt. First, you must cut the salted cod that you bought in the supermarket into large pieces. Then, soak the pieces of salted cod in a glass bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. You must replace the water in the bowl every 8-10 hours After 48 hours, cut a little piece and try it. It can't be too salty. Some people like codfish saltier than I do. You can extend the soak for a few hours more, replacing the water. This soaking period varies with the fish size. Then, remove it from the water and the delicious fish is ready to cook.

The way I prepare codfish is simple and starts the same way as with Bacalhau da Consoada. The potatoes are peeled and cut in half and then cooked in water and a pinch of salt, together with the codfish. Cod has a firm fleshy texture, it can be boiled for a long time, 30-45. Usually when the potatoes are done the cod is good also. I do not cook them in separate pots but you can if you want. After everything is boiled it has to be drained well. 

In a pot where everything fits, I put the potatoes and the cod. Then I peel the two garlic or more and chop them finely.  I sprinkle everything with pimentão doce or colorau (Capsicum annuum) , white pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  I cover the pot for about 10 minutes. 

The bread cannot be missing from the table because it's delicious to dip it in olive oil seasoned with colorau and garlic. (For my American readers: "Colorau" is a red powder from the dried fruit of a plant native to the American continent and introduced to Europe centuries ago. It is an essential ingredient in Portuguese cuisine, giving color and flavor to all types of dishes.) 

I learned this way of preparing the bacalhau with my grandmother. She called it Bacalhau à Lavrador. (The Farmer's Bacalhau)  It was the food of those who worked in agriculture, in the fields. They took it from home to the field, well-wrapped, in the Mondego river region,  a place in the center of Portugal, famous for its culture of rice, in the '40s.

On Christmas Day, there’s another family meal and this time meat will be on the table. It can be anything from roasted turkey to lamb or cabrito assado (baby goat). In the North of Portugal, you can also have Roupa Velha which translates as "old clothes". This dish consists of using the leftover codfish from the previous night and frying it up with thinly chopped potatoes and boiled eggs.

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