After trips to Lisboa and Rio a few years ago, I can still remember the taste and texture of really good bacalao. It's also known as saltcod or saltfish here, and it's a fabulous salt-cured fish that has a unique flavour. I remember my first taste on a beach somewhere in Rio - I was wet and sunburnt, tired and in need of superior nutrition. An elderly lady with a sun-withered face and a basket strayed past my towel and said something in Portuguese. I didn't have a clue what she was selling, but I took pity on her and as I thought she could do with some money, I agreed to buy whatever it was underneath the tea towel. "Bacalao" she said. I'd heard friends in Madrid talk about this stuff. I bit into my first rissole. She loitered and watched for my verdict. It was delicious - soft, warm, with a rich fish taste, studded with herb and tiny chunks of potato. With a knowing smile and nod, she was on her way and continued hawking her food further up the beach. I chased after her and bought as many as I could with my wet reals.
So I wanted to introduce my friends to these delights, having stumbled across a couple of big ingots of bacalao in my local fishmonger.
You poach the bacalao in water, add mashed potato, some herbs, maybe a little lemon zest, season and roll into balls. Get the oil hot, drop them in, swirl, remove and drain when brown. Serve with a Piri-Piri dipping sauce - just chillies, EVOO and white wine vinegar. Simple, delicious.
We followed that with a white bean and kale soup with chorizo (another Portuguese classic) and then a pork lemon and rosemary stew with some fresh crusty bread. Lubrication was in the form of a few chilled roses, a ballsy red (all from Portu) and then some great ruby ports.