Portuguese Christmas Eve Cod: Homemade Traditional Recipe

Written By Lara Silva

Cod is a Portuguese national treasure, connected to its history, from the discoveries to the Estado Novo. Despite the hundreds of ways to make a cod dish, the most important that has always stayed the same is the “Bacalhau de Consoada”. Translating to Christmas Eve Cod, this simple cod dish is eaten on December 24 across Portuguese homes.

If you’re looking to replicate the Christmas Eve Cod dish, our homemade traditional recipe is here to guide you through the process. Let’s get started!

What’s Christmas Eve dinner like in Portugal?

On Christmas Eve, traditionally, the main dish is cod, known as “Bacalhau da Consoada” (Christmas Eve Cod). This is a simple recipe of cod, potatoes, cabbage, and boiled eggs, The stars of this recipe are quality olive oil and garlic, giving it a strong but simple flavor. 

Although this recipe has simple ingredients, it takes time to prepare. Many purchase the salted cod weeks in advance and then leave it soaked to “unsalt” it, a process that can take up to 4 days for a whole cod. At times, as seen in the photo below, Christmas Eve dinner is also accompanied by octopus.

Christmas Eve dinner 2022. Traditional cod with potatoes, egg, cabbage, as well as chickpeas and octopus. Photo by Lara Silva

The next day, on Christmas Day, many Portuguese families eat Roupa Velha which translates to Old Rags. This dish was created to not waste any food, a peasant-like lunch that consist of mixing the leftover cod, potatoes, cabbage, and eggs. This can be eaten as a starter or dish, usually accompanied by a meat dish. 

Why is cod a Christmas tradition in Portugal?

The love of cod on Christmas is traditionally a Catholic custom in Portugal. Christian Portuguese people were not allowed to eat meat on fasting days of the Catholic calendar, leading to the tradition of eating cod on Christmas Eve. Meat would then only be eaten on the 25. However, this has spread throughout the country, even in non-religious families. However, many have started to cook a turkey or even pig on Christmas Eve, ignoring the Portuguese tradition.

Photo by Daniel Lobo (Flickr)

Portuguese Christmas Eve Cod Recipe

6 – 8 Portions 

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo salted cod (soaked for 3 days)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 kilo Portuguese cabbage
  • 1 kilo potatoes
  • 5 onions
  • 10 eggs
  • Olive oil

Instructions

Three days before, soak the cod in cold water with a bit of vinegar. Change water every day for those three days. 

  1. Boil water and when it is ready, boil the cod for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cod, but keep the water in the pot, adding salt. You will use it for the sides later.
  2. Place the cod in a large oven-safe container. Top the cod with a mixture of 1 bay leaf, garlic, and lots of olive oil. Let it sit with the olive oil mixture for as long as possible, a few hours if possible.
  3. While the cod is in the mixture, it’s time to prepare the sides and vegetables. In the same pot with the water where the cod was boiled, add the cabbage, the potatoes, and the peeled onions cut in half. Let boil for 10 minutes and then add the eggs.
  4. Place the cod in the oven at 180°C (356°F) with the mixture to heat up the cod for 10 minutes or until it is warm. 
  5. After placing the cod in the oven, let the vegetables boil for another 15 minutes until the eggs are cooked, and not runny. 
  6. Serve the cod and the potatoes together, topped with the olive oil and garlic mixture. Add some of the mixture to the cabbage as well, but serve these separately. 
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