portuguese influence: cod stew

When I was little we knew this wonderful Portuguese lady named Belmira. Sometimes she would cook us these amazing Portuguese dishes. She lived somewhere in Philadelphia’s Olney section which had a big Portuguese section in the early 1970s, the time when we knew her.

One of the things she made was a codfish stew. Belmira used bacalao which is dried and salted cod. She would soak it a couple of days in milk. I loved her codfish stew but she is the only one who I have ever known to make the bacalao palatable. My mother tried but it was always too salty.

Yesterday I was wondering what to make for dinner. I had gotten yet more potatoes in my vegetable box. (We always seem to get so many kinds of potatoes this time of year.) I also had a bunch (a little over two pounds total) of flash frozen cod in the freezer my husband had bought. Ash Wednesday was the other day, and I randomly remembered Belmira would make codfish stew.

I couldn’t find quite the right recipe. I looked at a couple of recipes, but then decided to wing it. Codfish stew is essentially tomatoes, cod, potatoes, onions, bell or sweet peppers, herbs, spices and white wine.

I decided I would make the stew part of it without the cod at first. I remember when you’re doing fish stews you only add things in like the last 20 minutes or so you’re cooking it so it doesn’t get over cooked. Cod is a great fish for soups and stews because it holds up and doesn’t disintegrate.

First I sliced thin a red onion and a white onion. I decided it would be prettier sliced than chopped. I put that into the bottom of a big pot with olive oil, five cloves of garlic sliced very thin, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning. To that I added a cup of white wine.

All the onions and garlic were starting to do their thing and white wine I also took two red bell peppers I had. I sliced them into thin rings. I also had three zucchini which I sliced into thin discs, and about six medium red bliss potatoes as well. I did not peel the potatoes. Finally I had a bag of spinach in the refrigerator so I cleaned that and drained it.

I added all of the other vegetables to the onions and garlic and white wine and started to let it cook down. then I added two 14 ounce cans of Mutti Baby Roma tomatoes. They are small, a little bit larger than the grape tomatoes you can buy in the supermarket. I just opened the cans and put them in juice and all. If you can’t find these tomatoes, you can use a regular 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes but you will have to break up the tomatoes because they will be too big. These Baby Romas are little so they just sort of pop open as they cook and they aren’t too large.

To this I added a little more salt, sweet Spanish paprika, basil, a little more Italian seasoning blend. The blend I use contains no salt, by the way.

I added another half cup I believe of white wine, a few tablespoons of tomato paste (maybe four), and then I just kept an eye on everything and let it cook on a low flame until the vegetables were tender and the flavors were right I don’t know how else to describe it.

About 20 minutes to half an hour before serving, I chunked up in two rather large chunks of the thawed codfish. I added it to the stew and bought the heat slightly. When the fish was cooked and flaking slightly at the chunk corners, I served it. It was really good!

I would say that you might have to add a little more liquid if you didn’t add spinach. And spinach as well as zucchini wasn’t part of what Belmira cooked when I was a child. I just had them to use up.

I will make this again. I imagine I could use other meaty white fish and even add shrimp to this dish. Alternately, the dish without the fish would make a good vegan dish. If I made it vegan, I might add capers.

Happy Saturday!

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