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Olivia Katrandjian

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A Traditional Portuguese Obsession Gets A Modern Twist (PHOTOS)

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 7:00 am

Despite Portugal's proportionally enormous coastline and the large number of local fish available, the country's most popular fish is cod, imported from Norway and Canada.

Today, the Portuguese have hundreds of recipes for cod.

"There are more than enough cod dishes for each day of the year," chef José Avillez told me when I had lunch at his new restaurant, Cantinho dos Avillez, in Lisbon.

One of the Portuguese's favorite is "bacalhau a bras," scrambled eggs with shreds of salted codfish and topped with black olives, served with matchstick-sliced fried potatoes, onions and parsley.

My favorite cod dish was "migas bacalhau," a stew of cabbage, red beans, cod, bread and parsley, served in a bread bowl and topped with olives. Back in the day, Portuguese fisherman would throw anything they had around into a single pot, similar to how the French came up with the fish stew bouillabaisse.

In addition to the traditional recipes, innovative chefs at new restaurants in Lisbon are giving the fish a makeover.

"Codfish is almost a fetish for the Portuguese," Miguel Castro e Silva, the chef at Largo, a new upscale restaurant in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, told me. "I like to cook cod by giving our traditional recipes a modern twist."

On Largo's menu is codfish with wild mint bread quenelles. Using the modern sous-vide method, Castro e Silva puts the ingredients in an airtight plastic bag and then cooks them slowly in a water bath at a low temperature over a long period of time, thereby ensuring a juicy result.

Down the street at Cantinho dos Avillez, try the flaked cod with bread crumbs, a low-temperature egg (an egg cooked at 150 degrees F. for 45 minutes) and "exploding" olives (gel-cased spheres of olive juice that explode in your mouth).

Belcanto, its sister restaurant, serves its own version of the traditional cod "açorda." At Belcanto, the codfish is served with crunchy, sautéed bread cubes injected with cod stock, coriander-textured water, coriander sprouts, cod stock foam, gel-encased spheres of grape juice and a low temperature cooked egg.

But codfish, which once sustained sailors on long journeys, is disappearing because it was severely overfished in the 1970s and '80s. Head to Portugal and try these delicious dishes before there are no more fish left in the sea.

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"Migas bacalhau,” a comfort food made of cabbage, red beans, cod, bread, parsley, served in a bread bowl and topped with olives at the Santarem Gastronomy Festival.
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