Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Caldeirada de Peixe

Caldeirada de Peixe

Trolling around the internet for something to make for dinner tonight, I came across this recipe for caldeirada de peixe or "Portuguese fish stew". I started my search by assembling the ingredients I had on hand, frozen wild Alaskan cod fish and potatoes, and came across this recipe which intrigued me.

I remember as a kid my Grandpa used to bring home huge, whole, split salted cod fish called bacalao or bacalhau. He would char pieces of it right over the gas stove and we would strip it up and eat it over rice, salt and all, with hot ocha tea poured over it ochazuke style. The cod would soften as it rehydrated and the salt would flavor the tea turning it into a kind of dashi broth. As I grew older, I learned that bacalao was brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese who used it in their cooking. In fact, the Portuguese took it wherever they traveled as did the Spanish (I guess just in case the local fish weren't biting). Bacalao in one form or another can be found all over the Mediterranean from Turkey to Morocco, to the Caribbean, South and Central America and Hawaii. You can probably map the 17th century global economy by documenting the presence of salt cod around the world but I won't bother doing that, I just like to eat it.

So how did I come up with caldeirada de peixe? By googling cod fish, potatoes and Portuguese. Seemed like a natural combination. Although this stew is not made with salt cod, my memories of bacalao put me in the right mindset to cook something new using what I had.

I browned a sliced onion, a red pepper and a couple of minced garlic cloves. Next I added a layer of potatoes and chopped tomatoes. The recipe I found called for piri-piri sauce which I didn't have so I improvised with some cayenne and turmeric. Next was the secret ingredient, ground nutmeg. Nutmeg isn't a spice I use very often so I was surprised at how well the nutmeg went with the cod and the potatoes. I put in just enough for the "What's in this?" factor, but the stew could have stood up to a pinch more. Fish broth or clam juice would have been perfect in this recipe but all I had to work with was chicken broth so I used a couple of cups of that instead. The addition of a cup of white wine would have sealed the deal. The pan was covered and allowed to simmer for about fifteen minutes and right before the potatoes were done, I seasoned the broth, added the cod and a handful of chopped parsley (cilantro would work equally as well), and let it cook gently for another ten minutes or so.

Then end result turned out well I thought. The cod was flaky and the broth was rich, flavorful and just slightly spicy hot. The ground nutmeg, however, really pulled this dish together. It would have definitely been even better had I had all the ingredients on hand. Next time I'll make sure I do. This one's a keeper!

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