Auguste Escoffier, the renowed French Chef quoted that “We owe to the Portuguese people the introduction of saltcod in so many cuisines of the World”. And indeed, since the 15th century we have been fishing this lovely fish in places such as Newfoundland because at the time we needed a fish that would keep for months in our long and fateful sea voyages. It has been very much part of the Portuguese gastronomy since then, what I consider to be a staple food. It is so incredible to see these fish (that have been opened in half , gutted and preserved in salt for months), hooked on strings in front of the ancient delicatessens like triangular pieces of cream cloth that wait to be cut into rectangular shapes by a skillful tailor. Then, like a ritual, you soak these slices in fresh cold water and keep changing the water for the following couple of days so that all the salt disappears and the fish becomes edible. There is a cured flavour, a delicious stickiness and composed flakiness that nowadays I enjoy only a few times in the year. It is said there are at least 1000 recipes that feature saltcod, I present you one which has a bit of British flare. Maybe this is the 1001th! And for dessert, to compliment this hearty dish, here are my father’s baked pears, which were prepared with a mix of spices, sugar, port wine and a sliver of quince paste, my favourite of all fruit preserves.
Saltcod & Spinach Pie with chouriço
350 gr of de-salted and boiled salt cod steak
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp of olive oil
100 gr of good quality chouriço (preferably from Portugal, but if difficult try any that comes from Galicia in Spain)
300 gr of washed fresh spinach
150 gr of good quality puff pastry
Pre- heat the oven at 190 ºC.
In a pan, fry the onion and the bay leaf in the olive oil. When it becomes golden add the garlic and the sliced chouriço and let it fry slowly. Mix in the shredded saltcod and mix well. Add the spinach and let it cook slowly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a small pie dish.
In a clean and floured surface, roll out the pastry and cut a rectangle that would fit the dish and close the pie. Brush it with the beaten egg yolk and take it to the oven for 25 minutes, till the pie is golden and the pastry has risen.
Baked pears in Port, mixed spices and quince
4 deseeded and pealed pears
100 ml of red Port wine
125 gr of sugar
1 tsp of mixed spice
4 cinnamon sticks
50 gr of quince paste
Pre-heat the oven at 190 ºC
Put the pears in an ovenproof dish. In a small bowl mix in the Port wine, the mixed spice and the sugar. Pour onto the pears, together with a slice of quince and a cinnamon stick in each pear. Take the dish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
You could serve them with a dollop of crème fraiche.