To borrow a phrase from Shrek, Maria Melo is “like an onion”–there are lots of layers. She was a working mom, she’s musical, she’s a fantastic painter, she has volunteered many hours at her local Portuguese club, spends time with friends, attends many cultural events throughout the city, is a loving grandmother and she cooks…lots.
Maria has great passion when it comes to everything she does, especially food and cooking. “Growing up, I always helped my mother cook. I hold these moments fondly in heart and have continued to create them with my children and grandchildren. I wanted them to learn how to cook traditional food from our region in Portugal. Naturally I focused on our favourite main dishes but didn’t forget the delicious petiscos (light snacks) like pataniscas de bacalhau (cod fish cakes), rissóis de carne (meat patties), moelas (stewed chicken gizzards) or the various Portuguese choriços. Christmas was always a joyous and delicious time of year, as I would cook up filhoses (a type of fried doughnut), rabanadas (often wine-soaked fried bread) and homemade flan pudding.”
When we approached Maria to contribute a recipe, she was ecstatic and immediately had one in mind—almost like she was anticipating the invitation. “The dish that satisfies me the most is one I created many years ago which my friends named Bacalhau Maria Melo”
Bacalhau (dry salted cod), potentially Portugal’s most treasured dish, has Canadian roots. Legend has it that in the 16th century, when Portuguese fisherman were off the coast of Newfoundland, codfish was so abundant, that it was jumping into their boats. Once their catch made its way back across the Atlantic, the people at home were hooked. The love affair with bacalhau is so strong, that they boast of 365 ways to prepare it—its versatility making it easy to love. It can be served hot with potatoes, cold in a bean salad or fried into little fish cakes as an appetizer. Grilled, baked, boiled or canned, you truly cannot go wrong. If we consider bacalhau the pinnacle of Portuguese gastronomy, it’s easy to understand why Maria chose this as her recipe.
“I first created this dish as a young girl, in my home town—Ferreiros, Gondoriz, Arcos de Valdevez. Over the years I have lived in various countries and have prepared this recipe for family and friends throughout the journey. To me, it is important that my family preserves our culinary traditions and that others may experience the delicious flavours of Portuguese cuisine.”
Having now tried Bacalhau Maria Melo, we would like to submit this as bacalhau recipe #366. Enjoy!
Bacalhau Maria Melo
SERVES 6 | COOK TIME 1 HR 30 MIN
- 1 kg of potatoes
- 6 pieces salted cod
- 2 green peppers
- 2 red peppers
- 4 eggs
- 5 medium onions
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 bunches of chopped parsley
- 1 cup grated cheese (your choice)
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon sweet pepper paste
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Black olives
PREPARE THE INGREDIENTS
- Before cooking, salted cod must be soaked in water for 24-48 hours. Add the pieces of salted cod to a glass bowl, fill with cool water, cover and store in the fridge. Replace the water every 8-10 hours.
- Set a pot of water boiling and add the eggs.
- Wash and half the potatoes (leave the skin on).
- Once water starts boiling, add the potatoes and cook for approximately 20 minutes.
- Remove the boiled eggs and add the cod pieces.
- Boil fish and potatoes for another 10 minutes or until both are cooked.
- Remove from heat, drain and let cool.
- Remove skin from potatoes, peel eggs, and remove skin and bones from the cod.
- Cut the potatoes into cubes, shred the cod using your fingers and slice the eggs. Keep these ingredients separate.
MAKE THE SAUCE
- Slice onions, peppers and garlic.
- Heat olive oil in frying pan.
- Sauté chopped ingredients and bay leaves.
- Add chopped parsley, tomato sauce, pepper paste and salt and pepper (to taste).
PUT IT TOGETHER
- Preheat oven to 330º.
- Add a thin layer of sauce to bottom of an oven safe pan (clay works best!).
- Add a layer of potatoes followed by a layer of cod and a layer of shredded cheese.
- Repeat layers.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven and garnish with sliced eggs, olives and springs of parsley.
WORDS: DAVID GANHÃO
PHOTOS: NOAH GANHÃO