Tag Archives: salt cod

Fish with Chickpeas

Meia-desfeita de bacalhau com grão is salt cod with chickpeas and hard boiled eggs. It is so good. A friend in Newfoundland made it but I didn’t write down how he did it. Years later in the library, looking through Edite Vieira’s The Taste of Portugal, I found the recipe. And photocopied it.

fish-and-chickpeas-photo-d-stewartMeia-desfeita means “half-undone”. In Lisbon, where the dish originated, people would ask for just half an order in restaurants if they were short of money. It has bulk yet is light (the beauty of chickpeas!). It can be served hot or cold. So it is a perfect winter or summer dish, for lunch or an evening meal. And it’s very pretty.

After making it with salt cod, I wondered what it would taste like with other kinds of fish. I got my chance to experiment with smoked trout fillets that a friend gave us.

With a couple ounces of leftover trout, I cut the recipe quantities to one third. That made enough for a meal for two of us. And oh, it was good! So below is the recipe from The Taste of Portugal with my modifications in italics.

meia-desfeita-ingredients-photo-d-stewartBoiled Cod and Chickpeas (Meia-Desfeita com Grão)

  • 12 oz (350 g) best salted cod, from the middle thick slices
    (1 small fillet smoked trout, flaked)
  • 12 oz (350 g) dried chickpeas (4 oz)
  • 2-3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (2 – lots of egg is good!)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/3)
  • 1 clove garlic, finally chopped (1 small)
  • 3 stalks parsley, chopped (1-2 fresh, 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/4 pint (150 ml) olive oil (50 ml, 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tbsp wine vinegar (1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper

Soak the cod for 24 hours or longer (assuming the slices are thick) in cold water, changing it several times. (I flaked the trout off the skin and heated it in the microwave about 30 seconds after everything else was ready.)

smoked-trout-photo-d-stewartSoak the chickpeas separately, overnight. Start cooking the chickpeas first (as they take 1½-2 hours if not done in the pressure cooking, which could reduce the cooking time to 25-30 minutes) in enough boiling water and salt. (You can use canned chickpeas instead, double the amount of dried. Heat and drain)

Scale and boil the cod in enough water to cover it, until tender (20 minutes). Do not add salt but check at the end whether it needs any, taking into account that you have soaked it long enough.

Prepare the garnish, mixing the onion, garlic and parsley, all very finely chopped.

In a separate bowl, mix the oil and vinegar.

fish-with-chickpeas-photo-d-stewartFor serving, place the cod at the bottom of a deep serving dish and cover it with the cooked and drained chickpeas. (I use a platter.) Pour the oil mixture all over this, sprinkle the onion-garlic-parsley garnish on top and decorate with the sliced boiled eggs.

Serves 4-6 (or 2)meia-desfeita-photo-d-stewartI think other fish and seafood would work well too. Shrimp and scallops perhaps. Something with body and richness. Probably not a delicate fish like fresh cod. You want the fish and chickpea taste and texture in balance. Here’s a slightly different way of making it.

Below is a link to The Taste of Portugal, an excellent cookbook that explains the food and its cultural origins. There’s also Jenn Thornhill-Verma’s 2019 book about  the collapse of Newfoundland’s cod fishery. My Portugal Day talks more about the long connection between Newfoundland and Portugal due to cod fish.

Portugal Day

Portugal-Day-Corte-Real-statue-wikipediaOn this day in 1965 Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood proclaimed June 17th Portugal Day in the province. It was at the Confederation Building when the Portuguese Fisheries Organization presented a statue of the 15th century explorer Gaspar Corte-Real to Newfoundland. At the ceremony, Joey spoke about the bond between two peoples, two nations.

Premier Smallwood

“Newfoundlanders have a deep affection and a great deal of respect for the people and country of Portugal. We intend every year to have Portugal Day. It will always be a simple ceremony.

And we hope that it will be attended always by Portuguese people and they will join with Newfoundlanders here at this monument, this statue that was given to Newfoundland by Portugal. For a few minutes once every year we will remind ourselves of the long and honourable friendship that has existed between our two maritime countries, our two fishing countries.

And remind ourselves too that whatever other industries there may come to Portugal and to Newfoundland, the fisheries continue, they go on, they continue to be important to both of us.”

Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s Harbour (Archival Moments)

National interests – multiplied

But by 1965 Newfoundland was part of Canada, something Joey had fought hard for. So it was no longer Newfoundland and Portugal talking; it was Canada and Portugal. When Portugal joined the EU in 1986, it was Canada and the whole of Europe. Diverse industries and interests, with Portugal and the Grand Bank fishery just one small part.

In 1986 Canada banned Portuguese vessels from entering Canadian ports after a dispute over illegal fishing. No more coming into St. John’s to refuel and resupply. Or play soccer on the waterfront, shop on Water Street, go to bars and restaurants. Play music. Visit friends and family.

Newfoundlanders and Portuguese

Tony Charana, a retired trawler captain from Buarcos: “For Portuguese to arrive in St. John’s is like arriving home.”

For him, that’s especially true. His wife was born and raised in St. John’s.

Irene Fleming Charana: “When I was small and went shopping with my mother downtown – the fishing clothes on and the long boots and everything like that, I was afraid of them. But I remember my mother saying she felt sorry for them because they were so far away from home. Little did she know that I’d end up marrying one!

Tony: “Now – I have my family. But I go to St. John’s like a tourist.”

Their friend Valdemar Aviero, another retired captain, felt it was a betrayal of history as well as friendship:

“At least thirty years before Columbus and John Cabot, João Corte-Real was there and named the land Land of Codfish. Terra do Bacalhau. 1463.”

Terra do Bacalhau

Vasco Garcia, a University of the Azores professor and former member of the EU Parliament:

“That instinct of being an ocean-goer five centuries ago with the feeling of possessing the sea: this is so hard for someone who has imprinted this, when they look to the fishing grounds of Newfoundland. For cod is called in Portugal the faithful friend, fiel amigo. It’s in the gastronomy. One cannot have Christmas in Portugal without bacalhau cozido – boiled cod – and bacalhau com batata – cod with potatoes. So cutting the Portuguese from these kind of roots is very painful. Not even from an economic point of view, but also from the heart – chromosomic, historical. It’s almost as if you are cutting the roots of the tree.

fishing boats on buarcos beach portugal 1995 photo d stewart
Fishing boats on the beach at Buarcos, Portugal 1995

A young inshore fisherman in Buarcos, José, wishing he could fish on the Grand Banks:

“It’s my life. Because it’s in my blood. My family is working on the ocean all the time, you know.”

Portuguese Waltzes

There’s long been an ex-pat Portuguese community in Newfoundland. But it’s also like there is – or was – a big Newfoundland outport in Portugal. They are the people Joey Smallwood was talking about, I think. The Portuguese, and Newfoundlanders, who looked forward every year to the arrival in St. John’s of the fishing fleet. Newfoundlanders like Art Stoyles:

white fleet hospital ship Gil Eannes in Portugal wikicommons
Gil Eannes, now a museum in Viano do Castelo, Portugal, where she was built in 1955

“I used to go down with me accordion waiting for them to come in. So they docked and they’d be off. They had their music, mandolins and whatever. One day, this buddy come up over the hill, ya know, with a great big accordion. I heard the music and said, where in the hell is that comin’ from! That’s beautiful. This guy had a big accordion – five rows of buttons. He was on the Gil Eannes, this guy. He was a captain, right. And boy, he had some outfit there. It had more bass on it than the poles on Water Street! Anyway, we played. He played a few tunes and I taped them off. After, I learned that Portuguese song.”

Portugal Day

The huge cod stock that gave the name Land of Codfish to the island of Newfoundland has been overfished to near extinction. Still, salt cod remains “the roots of the tree” for both Portuguese and Newfoundlanders. And the relationship between the two peoples goes on too. So here is Art’s “Portuguese Waltzes” on this, Newfoundland’s 54th Portugal Day. Let’s celebrate this “long and honourable friendship”.

CBC Land and Sea has footage from 1967 of a White Fleet sailing ship’s journey here. CBC also has video and audio from 1955 when Portuguese fishermen carried Our Lady of Fatima statues through St. John’s, their gift to the Basilica. At Archival Moments you can read more about the Portuguese in Newfoundland as well as at Newfoundland: The land of the Portuguese king.

Portuguese Waltzes book Richard SimasRichard Simas wrote a book about how The Portuguese Waltzes became part of Newfoundland’s music. It’s illustrated by Caroline Clarke. (2019, tap image for Amazon). Also see his article in the Summer  2019 Newfoundland Quarterly.

The quotes in this post come from CBC archives for Premier Smallwood, and from interviews I recorded in 1995 for a radio documentary.