As we prepared our menu strategies in my restaurants, I would use the months preceding Lent to ramp up my menu offerings and build momentum with cooks and floor staff. A big part of selling seafood is telling a story, and with seafood and Lent I would draw inspiration from my time on the Iberian Peninsula.
In Portugal especially, where the majority of the population is Catholic, the daily Lenten diet consists mainly of fish and vegetables. Since the Portuguese have historically appreciated all things salty, scaled and shelled, eating seafood any time of the year there is more a celebration than a sacrifice.
The revered bacalhau (also known as Spanish bacalao), or “o fiel amigo” (the faithful friend), has been an integral part of the Portuguese cuisine for centuries.
What better springboard for seafood innovation than Lent? Read more at Lent’s Momentum
I think of cooking bacalhau, or any similar fish, in highly seasoned tomato-based stews. Portuguese Seafood Stew (pictured), is built on that inspiration and can be menued as either a shareable entrée or individual serving, and offers a wonderful opportunity to make a splash with the presentation by bringing it to the table in its cooking vessel.
I use any member of the cod family (cusk, haddock, hake, pollock), heavily salt it and let sit at least an hour. This process, also known as green salting, firms up the flesh, helping it retain moisture and structure during the cooking process. The heavy salt on the fish also seasons the entire dish as it cooks.
Fire-roasted onion adds a smoky-sweetness to complement the acidic tomatoes. When heading into spring, I add a touch of fresh flavor by topping the stew with chervil or mint.