It has just sunk in that I really do live in Portugal; it’s not just one very long vacation. This is my home, we can barter with the Portuguese butcher for a “metade de um peru pequeno,” (a half of a little turkey), shop at the Saturday Market for all of the fresh fruits and vegetables. Being certain to pick up plenty of olives and coentros. Our first Christmas in Portugal was a little different.
Six months after we moved to Portugal, we spent our first Christmas in the city of Caldas da Rainha near Obidos. So enamored with all things Portugal, we decided
to make a traditional bacalhau recipe. Doesn’t everyone eat bacalhau on Christmas in Portugal? If they did, so would we; our pick was Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá, codfish, potato and onion casserole with eggs and black olives sprinkled on top, loaded with garlic and olive oil.
Bacalhau and espresso are the two main food groups of Portugal. On holidays, people are in special lines with special number machines at the supermercados to buy so many planks of the stuff you would think they were building some sort of fishy crèche.
The citizen and I embraced the meaning of the season and decided to make our ultra-traditional Bacalhau from the stinky stiff planks of fish. My hip young amigas said, “uh, no one but my Grandma buys these now, we buy our bacalhau ready to use.” Not us, we were proudly going old school Portugal style.
Deadline for dinner was Christmas Eve, Friday at midnight. Tuesday morning, I began soaking the stinky beasts in the huge old mixing bowl I brought with me from the States. History has it my great great grandmother used this very same bowl for her bread making back on the farm. The cod sat in the laundry room, slowly turning into pieces of fish as I changed the water at least 3 times a day, poking and prodding at it’s parts. Late Thursday night I drained the water and treated my now fish looking parts to a nice milk bath. I heard milk is THE one thing that will make the uneatable stiff board of fish fabulous.
I drank at least 2 glasses of wine cleaning that bacalhau. What a long stinky mess of a job. From all we bought, I ended up with only a couple of useable handfuls and wrinkled stinky fingers. It was fun putting the recipe together, sautéing the onions and garlic, pouring on the lovely olive oil. It was like building bacalhau lasagna, with all sorts of delicious ingredients
Garnished with the sliced boiled eggs, black olives and parsley, it looked just like the picture. Cloth napkins, fado on the CD player, we are having our first authentic Christmas Eve home-made Bacalhau. All excited, we toasted each other, Christmas, our lovely traditional dinner and we dug in. It was horrible! Not just bad, HORRIBLE. Spit it out bad!
We have avoided bacalhau ever since. Give me a sardinha, almost anything else. I will eat Açorda de marisco until I can’t move. I have friends who are determined to make me love the Big B. I’m game, let them try. I might like the one recipe that has eggs, butter and cream and not much bacalhau.
Now, in our fourth year in Portugal, we have learned how to mix it up. This Christmas we have fixings for Scottish style smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, and cream brunch served with chilled Vinho Verde. The pumpkin pie and the turkey will be American style. Yummy thick gravy from the bird’s pan drippings, better than Moms, Yorkshire pudding made by the citizen to soak it up. Purple local sweet potatoes, everything cooked in olive oil, lots of almonds and olives to nibble on all day. And as always, plenty of regional wines to enjoy it all with.
Warm and cozy, sitting together with the citizen in front of a roaring fire with our new baby girls, Lotte and Chicolina, the kitties we rescued. The mouth-watering smell of roasting turkey and relaxing after dinner with brandies and chocolates. It is so nice to be at home for Christmas, finally.
From my home to yours, Boas Festas and Peace on Earth.
Read the complete unedited story of our first Portuguese Christmas at: A Very Bad-calhau Christmas