Bacalhau de No21

This weekend I was reminiscing on last years wild adventure with my great friend Rebecca.
Known for her exploratory and daring nature, I (possible drunk at the time) agreed to a cycle ride from Salamanca in Spain to Lisbon Portugal.
Long straight, Spanish road through Cork Oaks.
The purpose of this ride was to celebrate a mutual friends life which had tragically ended at his own hands the previous year after many years of battling with his mental health and join together with a few other of his friends at Fiona's Quinta in Carregal do Sal, on the anniversary of his death. Simon had a loving and supportive family with an idyllic childhood, a plethora of friends spread far and wide, that he had easily made as he travelled and adventured.  To many his demise was a painful mystery. At his funeral many of these friends had gathered, had come together to support his family and remember the good times we had shared with this poetically talented, spiritual man, a bringer together of people even at his death.  We all agreed that this day forward would be known amongst us as Simons day.

As always on any adventure with Becca, food is one the presiding elements which make these trips so agreeable and always bring back the fondest memories. It was during the train journey from Paris to Salamanca that I first tasted Bacalhau.
Bacalhau is the Portuguese name for the dried, salted cod which, historically was the staple food during the Catholic period of Lent when meat was forbidden. But it is also the collective term for the many Portuguese dishes which are prepared using it.
My introduction came late at night on the sleep-over train which was staffed predominately by gruff, surly Portuguese and Spanish men. It was a quiet train, stopping infrequently at barren outposts, which gave the passengers and staff more of an opportunity to have a cigarette (and the staff to drink rough red wine. Including the driver, worryingly), than to collect more passengers. Rebecca and I propped ourselves at the bar in the dining cart,  trying to extract a little conversation from the barman cum chef of the plastic wrapped ping meals which were Europe's best offerings across the 3 countries.
He begrudgingly answered our probing questions about life as a long distance train KP, but was obviously much more interested in the two petite, pretty, Mediterranean teens at the other end of the bar, who were successfully fluttering and flicking beguilingly. As the evening rolled by, more and more of the trains crew entered the cart, were topped up with red wine and the volume of Portuguese chatter rose, (of which we were most definitely excluded from)  which culminated in a flurry of showmanship when the barman pulled out of the underused catering oven, a battered aluminium tray filled with a mix of potatoes, onions and white fish dripping in olive oil. The senores went silent as they were dished out this salty mixture and all Becca and I could do was look on, mouths watering realising our supper of crackers,  cheese and olives which an hour ago seems so resplendent and decadent, paled into a dry insignificance in comparison to the garlicky, omega rich dish being troughed in front of us. Our hunger prevented us from withdrawing our gaze even when I realised the chaps were beginning to squirm uncomfortably under our drooling gawps. The homens,  fed, found and fuelled on more wine, gradually drifted off to attend to important tasks, such as driving our vehicle and now free from his masculine chums disapproval the Barman caved in with a disapproving humpff and slapped down the remainders of their feast, grumpily in-front of us. We had died and gone to heaven. How could 4 simple ingredients  been transformed into this dish from the gods? Smacking our lips, with oil dripping down our chins we pressed him for his culinary know-how and as always happens, the international language of food broke down barriers. His chest puffed out, his face softened and he launched into a tirade of broken English instructions with a proud smile across his face, our first hearty conversation of the journey had been introduced by Bacalhua.
I glanced over to the sultry lasses and couldn't help a smug grin in their direction as they realised that no amount of hair tossing and jiggling compares to the middle-aged, female wisdom on the passion of grub and that dribbling publically always gets you what you want.
Over the next few days we cycled across sandstone plains,  eyed from above by Iberian Storks, whizzed down hairpin bends at breakneck speeds only to climb back up the other side of what I not-so fondly termed "liar hills" (these are hills that when you glance upwards, about a kilometre away you can see the top. As you puff your way over the pinnacle the lie is exposed and one discovers another kilometre or so of incline to battle ones way up. One day we did approx. 12 kilometre of liar hills). We had a day of sunburn followed by a day of snowstorm and seemed to be battered by every weather front in the metrological dictionary. At each welcome break in cafés, tapas bars and service stations there was a regional favourite Bacalhau to sample.

Another favoured Portuguese dish we sampled was the Francesinha.

Francehina
Originating in Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguica, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce served with French fries. Basically a ham, beef and pork butty covered with gravy.

Halfway through our trip after having struggled through a snow storm covering 45k's of some of the most strenuous ups and owns of our journey we stumbled soaking wet bedraggled and feeling very sorry for ourselves (not at all like the intrepid  explorers we envisioned ourselves to be) at a roadside café in Sao Miguel da Guarda. After eagerly downing a supersized portion of Francesinha we pulled out the map and made the wise decision to train the next 2 legs of our journey to Olivera da Hospital circumnavigating the Parque National da Serra da Estrela, hole up at Fiona's early, enjoy friendship and food, before making the decision on whether the mountainous climb to the summit of Portugal's mainland highest Mountain at 1933m would be too perilous with the current weather fronts.


Luckily the 20k from Olivera to Fionas was mainly downhill and we were met by a great gaggle of friends ready to celebrate Simons day. After a short rest, I traipsed up the terraces to the Quinta above to meet, for the first time in person, Dee from the Deeroys' Quinta, an ecologically built tourist venue that Tasha and I were contemplating having our hand fasting ceremony at. The steep incline seemed with every step to get steeper, I felt as though the altitude had suddenly got higher as I puffed my way up. I started to sweat profusely and black spots formed in front of my eyes. On reaching the Deeroys, I sat and panted for a few moments regaining my composure before grilling Dee on her vision for the ceremony. On my descent down the slopes, with shaky legs I announced to all that I was feeling a bit queasy and mentioned my ailments. Deans head popped around the kitchen curtain divider and asked me to repeat myself. On listening he asked the possy if anyone happened to have a stethoscope!  Strangely,  no-one happened to have about their person, in the arse end of rural Portugal, anything vaguely resembling a medical listening device so he improvised with a glass and sent me upstairs to the bedroom quarters to undress. Now I must mention that it is not a regular compliance of mine, to willingly follow instructions by random men to "get upstairs and get my kit off", but I knew I was in safe hands with Dean who is an experienced, professional paramedic. (may I also add, my one and only claim to fame as knowing, an albeit,  minor celebratory,  as Dean is also known as Wingnut from the Channel 5 series Emergency Bikes). Lying prone on Fiona's' bed, Dean now made the most surreal medical examination I have ever been present for. He took my pulse, inspected my pallor and quite calmly and with a serene smile said with ear to glass "Ah, yes, your heart has just stopped. What I would like you to do now is bear down as if you are giving birth and massage firmly here", as he placed my fingers on what I suppose is the jugular vein in my neck. This continued, his expression unchanged until he stated "there we go, it's started again". He then explained that I was probably suffering from extreme dehydration, bought on, not from not drinking enough, but through continuously hydrating myself with water drinks along our journey, I had upset the delicate balance of salts in my body and had sweated out my reserves. I was prescribed, watered down fresh orange juice with extra sugar and salt, strict instructions to rest and spent the next 18 hours KO'ed as all below partied. And I do believe my last meal of salty Francesinha  and fries may well have prevented complete collapse.

So without further ado, and with Simons day approaching again I am introducing Bacalhua de No21, a concocted British version of "what was available in the freezer", that did a blimin' good impression of my first Bacalhua experience.

1lb of frozen fish leftovers. I used smoked haddock, salmon and cod
3lb of spuds
5 white onions
half a bulb garlic
lashings of olive oil. If you think you have added enough add more!
parsley
2 hard boiled eggs

Chop spuds into large chunks and boil until just cooked. Cook fish until just about falling apart. In a bowl add good 2" of oil, mix in crushed garlic and thinly sliced onions. Mix with hands so all is thoroughly coated in the oil. Add in potatoes and parsley and gently mix trying not to break up the spuds and then introduce the fish leaving it in hearty chunks. Add more oil if it looks as though not everything is soaked. Season with coarse sea salt and black pepper and turn into a deep sided roasting tin. Into the oven at medium heat for 25mins. Stir gently, add more oil if it is looking like it is being absorbed and more parsley half way through cooking. When cooked, but not browned, top with the quartered eggs and more fresh parsley. Hey presto, Bacalhua de No21. And I must say it is real hearty, comfort food on a miserable, rainy, Sunday afternoon


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