I recall eating soups in huge, deep bowls with a piece of rustic bread floating on top. To stretch they added kale, cabbage, and lots of potatoes, but it was digging in to find the fish and pieces of hard boiled egg I remember best.

A sense memory: Portuguese Cod Soup

(recipe follows)

I really enjoy reading other peoples blogs. Last week I came across this post which reminded of the soups my aunts would make when I was boy. They were immigrants from the Azores and we all lived in a little community in Artesia. The ingredients depended on what grew in the garden, how much money was left after expenses, and how many people were staying. So salted cod was on my mind.

Yesterday I walked by the Korean section of the market — packaged dried cod.

My morning ritual is to look in the fridge to see what I need to use. The cod was hydrated… On the way to work, in my minds eye, I pieced together what I remembered of cod soup.

For flavour cook the tomatoes until they begin to stick to the pan and the oil resurfaces.

For flavour cook the tomatoes until they begin to stick to the pan and the oil resurfaces.

At home, I had half an onion in a ziplock bag, potatoes, canned tomatoes, eggs. I sliced the onion, crushed two cloves of garlic and sweat them in a drizzle of olive oil in a Dutch oven. I added 1/2 a can of crushed tomatoes. To develop flavour I reduced the tomato until it started to stick to the pan and the mass glistened with oil. To melt the flavours seared onto the enamel into the soup I poured a jigger or two of white wine and stired hard.

For seasoning my aunts used what was at hand: bay leaves, whole allspice and black pepper pods. I was out of allspice, so I substituted grains of paradise.

Add a layer of potatoes. My aunts would have laid kale, sliced hard boiled eggs, and if they could afford them olives or capers.

Add a layer of potatoes. My aunts would have laid kale, sliced hard boiled eggs, and if they could afford them olives or capers.

I added water, layered the fish over whole potatoes — I left the skins on for that little bit of extra flavour and bite. No hard boiled eggs! I put two eggs in their shell into the pot, covered with water and simmered on low for half an hour.

I tasted. Not flavourful enough, but the fish didn’t dominant. I added the rest of the tomatoes, salt, two springs of fresh thyme and just a pinch of saffron

I bit into the fish first. The flavour transported my mind from my little kitchen in Japan into the eyes of that little boy looking up at apron strings and weathered hands. Moments like these are one of the pleasures of cooking.

I recall eating soups in huge, deep bowls with a piece of rustic bread floating on top. To stretch they added kale, cabbage, and lots of potatoes, but it was digging in to find the fish and pieces of hard boiled egg I remember best.

I recall eating soups in huge, deep bowls with a piece of rustic bread floating on top. To stretch they added kale, cabbage, and lots of potatoes, but it was digging in to find the fish and pieces of hard boiled egg I remember best.

Portuguese Cod Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 - 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Tier one — you must use

  • Dried cod hydrated overnight (if you’re using salted dried cod, you’ll need to change the water several times)
  • Potatoes (my aunts always peeled, but our generation has new traditions and ideas)
  • white wine (to your taste)
  • olive oil (to your taste)
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 – 3 cloves of crushed garlic (they provide a burst of flavour if ladled in your bowl)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 5 – 10 whole allspice and black pepper pods

Tier two — suggested

  • Parsley stems, thyme, marjoram (optional) to taste.
  • A leaf of kale

Tier three — optional

  • a pinch of saffron
  • cabbage (to stretch the soup and for flavour)
  • a slice of rustic bread (to float on top when serving)
  • olives and capers to your liking (a flavor option)

Method: Drizzle olive oil in the pan, add onion and garlic and sweat for five minutes — do not brown. Add tomatoes and cook until they stick to the bottom of the pan and the oil comes out (they glisten). Degrease with white wine and stir vigerously to loosen the caramelised bits and evaporate the wine. Add a little water to stop the cooking so you can layer potatoes, slices of hard boiled egg, olives, capers, fish. Add enough water to cover the fish. Put your spices in, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes and taste. Adjust the seasonings.

Note: If you use the kale or cabbage, add it the last 10 minutes of cooking.

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14 Comments on “A sense memory: Portuguese Cod Soup

  1. Hi Steven. This sounds like a soup that I need to make. Can i use ffresh cod? I don’t have access to salt cod. If so do I have to add ectra salt or anything else. Jack

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    • Preserving the fish, either drying or salt drying, changes the texture of the fish. I’ve only ever eaten the dried version, but I love the flavour and texture of fresh cod in chowders and other soups, too.

      I googled your question and there are some recipes out there that use fresh cod. Most of them say to pack the cod in salt for a period of time, rinse and use. My guess is even a short salting will remove enough water from the fish to affect the texture.

      Personally, I think you should go with what you have — unsalted — and see if you like it. The fish will most likely fall apart during cooking, but that’s okay. It’s how all the ingredients in your part of the world come together for you.

      Make you sure you blog about it. I’d like to read your experience.

      And just to be clear, you wouldn’t need to add extra salt. The salt is washed off through soaking with several changes of water. Also, in the soup I took a picture of the egg is sitting on the side. My aunts would slice the eggs into the soup. The yolk would dissolve. Eating the soup, your spoon would bring different things to your pallet: a caper, a piece of fish, a slice of egg, and sometimes a flavour burst of garlic.

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  2. I’d be happy to dig into that dish, sounds scrumptious! (Though somewhat labor-intensive, so I’m happy to leave the experimenting and telling of tales to you 😉 Thanks for dropping by my blog, happy to find your – who doesn’t love to eat?!!

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    • Thank you.

      Labor intensive? Not at all — I didn’t even peel the potatoes. 🙂 Start to finish was 40 minutes, the first 10 was sautéing.

      Just think of all the photos you can take while making it without having to go out. Suddenly it sounds labor saving. (grin)

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    • Please do, and then blog about it. I’d love to read about your experience with it.

      Wherever you are in the world, your ingredients will be slightly different and the individual touches you add just by being you will affect the end soup. The differences between us all are no larger than that. To me, that’s exciting to read.

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  3. I love the way you blend an informative recipe with enticing pictures and fragrant strands of personal memoir together in this post. I am looking forward to more, please!

    Like

    • Thank you very much.

      Today is my 20th day blogging. I don’t think I’ve found my exact voice yet, but your comment makes me feel I’m going in the right direction. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

      Like

  4. Hi, and thanks for the “shout out” for our friends’ guest blog post. Really enjoyed reading about your experiences and the way food is so intertwined in all of our lives. It’s so funny the way smells can transport us to another place and time. Take care!!

    Like

    • You’re welcome, and thank you. Your excellent post took me in a direction I hadn’t thought about going.

      Your post on casserole is charming, too. BTW, I’m also doing a lasagne recipe next week. I’m just now using up the last of the Bolognese.

      Like

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