It's my turn again for a piece for Christmas with the Crooked Cats. This is a piece in more ways than one. It is The Piece Of Cod Which Passeth All Understanding.
Some years ago my dear friend Dina Da Silva told me about how Christmas is celebrated in her native Portugal. The main Christmas meal (called a consoada in Portuguese) takes place on the evening of Christmas Eve, and it is a dish centred on bacalhau – Portuguese salt cod.
Bacalhau is one of Portugal's principal foods, and it is said that there are more than 365 different ways of cooking it - that's at least one for every day of the year, including leap years. But 24th December has its own special dish: Bacalhau da Consoada (Christmas Eve Cod).
To serve four people, you will need:
4-5 pieces of dried, salted cod. This has to be rehydrated at least 24 hours in advance, with frequent changes of water. You can order salt cod from any good fishmonger, but if you can't get hold of it you can use fresh cod fillets. Completely cover them with coarse sea salt, leave them for exactly ten minutes, then rinse off the excess salt. This fish will take less time to cook than the dried sort.
1 kg boiling potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into halves or quarters (depending on the size)
1 large cabbage, shredded. Ideally this should be Portuguese cabbage, but you can substitute a good Savoy cabbage (such as January King) or curly kale.
4 fresh eggs
A tin of cooked chickpeas.
4 cloves of garlic
A few sprigs of fresh parsley
A little salt
Extra virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar
Salt and freshly-milled white pepper
First, finely chop the garlic and parsley, put into a small bowl, and set aside.
Put the potatoes into a very large pan (or two medium-sized pans), cover with plenty of cold water, add a dash of salt, and bring to the boil. Then add the fish, the eggs (still in their shells) and the cabbage. If you are dividing the ingredients between two pans, make sure there is some fish in both of them, as you will need the flavour of the cod to penetrate the dish.
Heat up the chickpeas separately in a small pan. When the potatoes are cooked, take out the eggs, peel them and cut them in half, then drain everything and place on a large warmed platter. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a separate bowl, and bring everything to the table with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, bread, and the parsley and garlic.
To serve, put some cod, potatoes, cabbage, chickpeas and half an egg on to a warmed plate. Sprinkle with some garlic and parsley (be warned: if you go to Midnight Mass afterwards you will stink out the church!), drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and freshly-milled white pepper, grab your fork, and enjoy!
Tomorrow evening, as shoes are placed in chimneys in anticipation of a visit from O Pai de Natal, this dish will be made and eaten in homes all over Portugal. After the main course the children will go and play and work themselves up into a state of excited exhaustion. The table will be cleared and then laid with a wonderful range of desserts, including arroz doce (Portuguese sweet rice pudding), chocolate mousse, and pain perdu. The rest of the evening will be spent eating desserts, talking, and finding a way of distracting the children so that Santa can come and deliver his goodies. Gifts are opened as the clock strikes midnight.
Special thanks to Dina Da Silva for her help in producing this article. Muito obrigada, Dina, e feliz Natal!