Bacalhau e grão de bico (also known as salada de bacalhau) is one of the first Cape Verdean dishes that I learned to make. There are a few steps involved, but it’s one of the easiest Cape Verdean dishes to assemble. It’s much like a salad and is composed of salted cod (bacalhau), chickpeas (grao de bico), sliced potatoes, hard boiled eggs, onions, and olives. There are many versions of bacalhau, but this ‘salad” version is my favorite because of the hero ingredient: the chickpea.
Although I’ve provided measurements in the recipe card below, I want to place an emphasis on the technique of making this dish. Like many other Cape Verdean foods, the measurements can be adjusted to suit your preference. Feel free to use my exact measurements or use them adjust the amount of fish, chickpeas, eggs or potatoes to your liking.
Because of the number of steps involved, my goal when writing the recipe was to consolidate steps with the intention of cutting down on the amount of time and clean-up!
Is this bacalhau and chickpea dish really a salad?
Growing up I never called this dish salad because my family prepared it more like a casserole, and baked it. In my family, we simply refer to it as grão’d bico or bacalhau.
In Portugal, Brazil, and even in some parts of Cabo Verde, you’ll hear people refer to this dish as salada de bacalhau. You’ll see me lazily refer to it as ‘chickpea salad’ or ‘bacalhau salad’ throughout this post because it’s easier than writing out ‘bacalhau e grão de bico’ over and over again. Plus, ‘chickpea salad’ is a popular search engine term. Shameless, I know.
My version of salada de bacalhau is a hybrid between a casserole and a salad. The cod fish and chickpeas are tossed in olive oil and drizzled with vinegar (like a salad), and the potatoes, eggs and olives arranged on top of the dish (similar to how a casserole is prepared). Whether you consider this dish a salad or not, don’t be fooled! It’s quite filling!
What is salted cod?
Bacalhau translates to ‘cod fish’. When we use the term bacalhau in the context of Cape Verdean food, it’s usually salt cod that we’re referring to. Salt cod’ is cod fish that’s been dried out and preserved in a lot of salt. These days, there are more modern methods of preserving fish (like refrigeration and freezing), but salt cod has maintained its popularity in island and Latin-inspired cuisine because of its distinct taste.
Other variations of salted cod:
One would think that modern methods of preserving food (like refrigeration) would make the method of preserving cod fish with salt obsolete but oh no! Salt cod has maintained its popularity throughout Africa, the Caribbean and parts of the Mediterranean. A few of my favorite salt-cod dishes (besides this one) are Jamaican ackee and saltfish and Puerto Rican serenata (cod fish salad with root vegetables). Check out my friend Marta’s recipe for serenata over at Sense & Edibility.
Can I use fresh cod instead of salted cod to make this bacalhau and chickpea salad?
Fresh cod is a suitable alternative if you can’t find the dried and salted version. The only thing that will be lacking is the distinctly salty taste. If using fresh cod, I recommend sautéing (instead of parboiling) and seasoning the bacalhau with salt pepper, since fresh cod tends to be a little bland. Fresh cod also releases liquid when it cooks, so you’ll want to drain it before combining it with the rest of the ingredients.
Remember that salted cod can be just as tender and flaky as fresh cod when prepared correctly! I strongly encourage you to use salted cod, if it’s available to you. The method in this recipe will help you achieve the perfect flaky texture.
Where to buy bacalhau (salted cod):
I’m lucky to live in an area where salted cod is easy to find. Any Cape Verdean, Portuguese or Latin-American seafood market carry it. Depending on what the demographics are of where you live, you may even find bacalhau in your local-chain grocery store. Salted cod fish (like most other seafood) can also be purchased online.
Salted cod comes in a few different forms. It’s often sold in very large pieces (with the bones and the skin attached) which I prefer not buy because of amount of work involved. My preference is to buy the pre-cut smaller filets with the skin and bones removed.
Try to steer clear of salt cod that’s packaged as bits or chunks, because they usually contain remnants or tail pieces which are chewy and rubbery. In my novice days of making this balcalhau and chickpea salad, I used the bits. Once I learned the proper method of hydrating the fish, I switched to using the pre-cut filets and noticed a huge improvement in the texture.
A few tips and tricks for making this Cape Verdean chickpea salad:
- Soak the salt cod overnight and change the water at least twice. This step is a must. You cannot eat or prepare bacalhau that’s been salted and dried without soaking it in water prior to preparing it. You’ll also need to change the water to remove the excess salt.
- Read the entire recipe before starting. Admittedly this is something that I don’t always do when following a recipe, but I’ve also paid the price for not doing so. There are many steps in this recipe, and it’s best to pay attention to the order of things so that you’re not spending more time preparing this dish than you need to.
- Don’t actively boil the bacalhau or the eggs. You want to boil the water and turn it off right before submerging the bacalhau. This prevents it from over-cooking. A similar method for cooking the eggs is also used, refer to the directions in step 4.
- I like to undercook my potatoes just slightly. This prevents them from breaking. If you can’t tolerate al-dente potatoes, I totally understand. Just keep in mind that potatoes get mushy easily, especially if you’re tossing them, like salad. If you’re not so picky about presentation, and prefer softer potatoes, you can cook them a little longer.
How to make Cape Verdean salada de bacalhau
Step 1: Soak the salted cod fish
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no way to get around this step. You have to soak and rinse the fish ahead of time to hydrate it and rinse away the excess salt. Remember, the bacalhua will still have a salty taste, even after rinsing, so you shouldn’t need to add anymore salt to the fish whatsoever.
Soak the bacalhau overnight in a large bowl of water (in the refrigerator). Change the water twice during the soaking process. Start soaking in the early evening and change the water before you go to bed. Change the water again in the morning, and let soak again until you’re ready to prepare the dish.
Step 2: Par-boil the bacalhau
Par-boiling is a method that I recently started using and so far it’s been a game-changer. I used to cook the fish by sautéing it on the stovetop but I recently started letting it sit in a covered pot of boiling water (with the flame turned off) for 15 minutes, and then draining, rinsing and flaking the fish by hand. This method yields much more tender and flaky pieces of fish.
Prior to submerging the fish, I boil the water with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. This enhances the taste of the bacalhau. Once the bacalhau has been submerged and covered for 15 minutes, remove the lid, drain the water and let the bacalhau cool.
Break the bacalhau apart with your fingers. It will flake easily. Keep the large flakes in tact, you don’t have to force it. Discard any stringy or gummy pieces, you only want the tender pieces. With a quality cut of fish there shouldn’t be many lean or rubbery pieces.
Set the bacalhau aside and move along to steps 3 and 4. Just a note, if you feel like you can knock out steps 2, 3 and 4 simultaneously, go for it! This will save you time. I prepare the potatoes and eggs separately, since they sit for different amounts of time, but some people do them in the same pot. It’s up to you.
Step 3: Slice and boil the potatoes
Like I said, you can start this step while the bacalhau is sitting in the hot water or you can wait until after you’ve flaked the fish. The first thing you want to do is peel and slice your potatoes into ¼-inch thick rounds.
Place the potatoes in a medium-sized saucepan and boil them until they are just slightly undercooked (about 10-15 minutes). I prefer the potatoes to be tender enough where they can be pierced with a fork by applying just a small amount of pressure.
I don’t let the potatoes to get super-soft, because they’ll break when you go to assemble the dish. If you examine the color, you’ll notice that potatoes that are just slightly firm appear shiny with a hint of yellow and some very light veining (look at the photo above).
The more pale or dull looking the potato slices, the more soft they are (and the more gentle you’ll need to be with them). I recommend not overcooking your potatoes as they will turn to mush.
Brush the potatoes with olive oil, give them a tiny sprinkle of kosher salt and cover them in plastic wrap while working on the other steps. This will keep the potatoes from appearing dry and dull when you serve them.
Step 4: Boil the eggs
Preparing the eggs and potatoes at the same time will cut down on time. I prepare them in separate pots, but you don’t have to! For perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs, place them in a small pan and fill the pan with cold or room temperature water. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the water and bring the pan to a boil.
Once the water reaches a boil, turn the flame off, cover the pan and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 12 minutes. After the 12 minutes has lapsed, transfer the eggs to an ice-water bath and let them sit until you’re ready to slice them and top the chickpea salad.
The trick to perfectly peeled eggs is making sure to keep the eggs very, very cold. Keep them in the ice bath until you’re ready to slice them. If the ice in the water bath melts, just add a few more ice cubes to keep it nice and cold. Your eggs should feel very cold to the touch when you’re peeling them. Keeping them ice cold somehow loosens the membrane that separates the egg from the shell, making the eggs easier to peel.
Gently tap the top and bottom of the eggs against a hard surface to break the shell. Then carefully peel the boiled eggs and set them aside. Again, I wait until the very end to slice the eggs.
Step 5: Sauté the onions, fish and chickpeas
We’re almost to the end, I promise! Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in dutch oven or deep skillet, then add the onions. Sauté the onions until they’re soft, shiny and translucent.
Add the minced garlic and bacalhau to the skillet and saute for about 5 minutes. All of the ingredients should be evenly distributed. If you feel like your oil is starting to dry up, add a little bit more.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the pan. I don’t think we covered this, but canned chickpeas are used in this recipe!
Toss the chickpeas with the onions and bacalhau, and continue to sauté everything for an additional 3-5 minutes. You want everything to get hot, but you don’t want the fish, onions or chickpeas to overcook.
Turn the flame off and toss the bacalhau and chickpeas in a little more olive oil (if desired), and add some black pepper to taste. At this point the bacalhau should still be slightly salty, so you shouldn’t need to add any more salt. Add some fresh chopped parsley or cilantro (optional), and toss one last time.
Step 6: Time to assemble the dish!
You can either transfer the bacalhau and chickpeas to a casserole dish or if you’re using a dutch oven like the one shown above, you can assemble the chickpea salad in there.
Place the the sliced potatoes on top of the bacalhau salad. Slice your eggs (this slicer is amazing by the way) and arrange the eggs on top. Garnish the chickpea salad with a few Portuguese olives (these are optional).
Once plated, you can drizzle the bacalhau and chickpea salad with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil and white vinegar.
Here’s a close up for you!
Do you love Cape Verdean food? Check out these other recipes!
Bacalhau e Grão de Bico (Cape Verdean Salt Cod and Chick Peas)
- 2 pounds dried salted cod (boneless filets work best)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 whole cloves of garlic
- 3 medium-sized white potatoes peeled
- 2-3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion sliced
- 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
- 3 cans of chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
- white vinegar for drizzling
- handful of Portuguese black olives (optional)
- Change water twice during this process (I usually change it once in the evening and again first thing in the morning).
- fill a large pot with water. Add the garlic cloves, bay leaf and a teaspoon or 2 of olive oil and bring the water to a boil. Turn the flame off, submerge the bacalhau in the water and cover with a lid. Let the bacalhau sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain the water and transfer the bacalhau to a large bowl to cool. Once the bacalhau has cooled slightly, break it into flakes using your fingers. Move on to steps 3 and 4.
- by placing them in a small pan, and filling the pan with water. Add the baking soda and bring the pan to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the flame off, and cover the pan. Let the eggs sit in the boiling water for 12 minutes. Drain the hot water and transfer the eggs to an ice-bath. Keep the eggs in the ice-bath until you’re ready to use them. Keep the water as cold as possible, by adding more ice cubes to the bath at any time.
- into ¼-inch thick rounds. Cover them in salted water in a large saucepan and boil them until they are tender, but not too soft (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes and brush them with a little bit of olive oil and kosher salt. Cover them in plastic wrap until you’re ready to assemble the dish.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven or a deep skillet. Add the sliced onions and sauté over medium-heat until they’re soft, shiny and translucent. Add the crushed garlic and bacalhau to the skillet and toss with the onions (over medium heat) for 5 additional minutes. Taste the bacalhau and add additional salt .
- and black pepper to the skillet and sauté for an additional 3-5 minutes. Turn the flame off and add the chopped parsley or cilantro, and another drizzle of olive oil (if desired). Toss one last time.
- . Slice the eggs into rounds. Arrange the eggs and potatoes on top of the salad. Serve the bacalhau and chickpea salad with with a drizzle of olive oil and white vinegar.