- June 2, 2022
Cod is a fish eaten all over the world, but it reaches a new level of national obsession in Portugal.
Tito Vitorino, the proprietor and chef at Amore Restaurant, says salted cod is for the Portuguese what pasta is to Italians, and he likes to serve a version of the dish that he tried in Ribatejo Province many decades ago.
"We have 11 million citizens in Portugal, and we eat more salted cod than the entire world combined," says Vitorino. "If you go to a Portuguese restaurant no matter the size, no matter how chic or how luxurious or what kind of neighborhood it’s in, you will find at least half a dozen to a dozen salted cod dishes on the entire menu."
But it doesn't end there.
Vitorino says you could spend your life learning recipes to make salted cod. And it would be a life well lived.
"We have a saying that we have 365 recipes for salted cod — one for each day of the year," he says.
"But it’s much more than that. Believe me."
Vitorino says that cod is butterflied and buried in inch-thick layers of natural sea salt for three to four months before it's ready to be used in cooking.
And although cod might be swimming all over the world, there's one variety better than the rest.
"Norwegian salted cod is the best cod in the world," he says. "Nothing against the Alaskan or the Canadian salted cod, but when you cook it, it has a tendency to shrink and get a little tougher. The Norwegian extends. It almost gets flaky. It’s a completely different quality."
This fish is salty. But you don't want it to be too salty to eat. Vitorino says that the fish has to be "marinated" in water for two or three days before it's ready to eat.
"You put it in a container of water and you change the water every morning and every night," says Vitorino.
"If you put your finger on the water and you taste the water and the water is still salty to your palate, that means the salted cod is still too salty to cook."
The cod is sauteed with olive oil, onion, garlic and parsley, and then Vitorino adds black olives, roasted bell peppers and a half glass of white wine. He lets it cook a while, and then he adds a touch of marinara sauce or tomato paste and lets it cook for 45 minutes. And finally it's served over sliced, fried potatoes.
Back in his youth, Vitorino was a professional cyclist in Portugal, and he found this dish by accident when he would visit his teammates that were from Ribatejo Province.
"We used to train on the hills down over that area and there was this small little family restaurant and we were crazy about it," he says. "And then I always prepared it at home for family and friends."
Is Cod Ribatejano a good food for cyclists?
"Not really. It's a little heavy," he says. "I believe nothing is bad for your body if you don't do it in excess."
Tito Vitorino and his wife, Liana, grew up within five miles of each other in Lanego, Portugal, and every year they go home in September to visit their family and friends. This year, they came back to Sarasota just in time for Hurricane Ian, but Vitorino says the annual trip back to Portugal is necessary to relax and unwind.
"It's not like I'm taking my eccentric American wife to meet the neighborhood when we go home," he says. "Her friends are my friends and our parents, they knew each other even before we met.
"When we go home, we really go home."