One spring day in Lisbon, the daughter of the house where we were staying presented Tom with a large bunch of red carnations, to celebrate his birthday.

One week later, carnations were everywhere in the city, notably sticking out of rifle barrels. The carnation revolution was underway, fifty years ago.

It was also the same year that I began to keep my kitchen diary, recording all the meals I have cooked, wines Tom served, dinners at friends' and in restaurants.

The pages now are interleaved with ephemera; restaurant bills - £15.79 for lunch for two at the Tate Gallery, including a half bottle of 1969 Chassagne Montrachet and a 1962 Chateau Malescot St Exupéry; thank-you notes from names I would not dare to drop; a list of a week's shopping at the 'new' Sainsbury in Muswell Hill, £5.65; the wine served that night was a £1.50 Montagny Roger de Jouennes from Victoria Wines in Highgate…..Ah, well; I digress.

Hackney Gazette: Another classic Portuguese dessert are the custard tarts Pastel De NataAnother classic Portuguese dessert are the custard tarts Pastel De Nata (Image: Supplied)

Lisbon was already a favourite destination in the early 70s. We loved the food and my diaries have countless entries for Portuguese dishes. Stuffed squid braised in white wine, abundant seafood in a cataplana, rabbit baked in rice and red wine, lamb's liver Lisbon-style, steak Gambrinus for special occasions - fillet cooked in a little butter, flamed in brandy and doused with cream, and many, many variations on salt cod.

Iscas, or lamb's liver Lisbon-style makes a delicious and inexpensive mid-week dinner. Not particularly photogenic, but simple, homely and inexpensive.

The liver can be marinated overnight, or at least for several hours, and cooking time is little more than ten minutes. I like to serve it with basmati rice to sop up the very good juices. The crisp petillance of a vinho verde is a good foil for the robust flavours, and you can also use it as the cooking wine.

Remove and discard any piping from the liver, and cut into little finger-size pieces. Put in a bowl, and mix well with olive oil and dry white wine. Stir in the onion rings. Cover,  refrigerate, and marinate overnight.

A lidded casserole, not too heavy for you to pick up and shake, or a wide sauté pan, is best for cooking the liver. Strain it and reserve the marinade. Heat the casserole or pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and, when it is very hot, put in the liver, a handful or so at a time, so as not to crowd the pan, which lowers the temperature, and causes the meat to steam rather than fry. Put on the lid, and shake the casserole vigorously. Return it to the heat, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to just cook the liver.

Remove each batch as it is cooked, and keep it warm in a serving dish. When you have removed the last of the liver, pour the marinade into the casserole, and boil until reduced by half. Season to taste, and pour the sauce over the liver. Scatter coriander leaves on top before serving.

I used to buy packs of salt cod in Golborne Road or Camden Town but have made my own version for years now. I prefer a thick piece of cod fillet, skinned, which I place in a shallow container, sprinkled with two tablespoons sea salt. I scatter 2 to 3 more tablespoons salt on top of the fish, cover with cling-film, weight it, and refrigerate the fish for 2 to 3 days.

Pour away the brine that will form, rinse the fish under a trickle of cold water for 20 minutes or so, pat dry and then use in your favourite recipe. Mine is with egg and potatoes, a winning combination, bacalhau à Brás.

Maria de Lourdes Modesto, whose Traditional Portuguese Cooking would accompany me to my desert island, recommends accompanying the dish, as you can see, with black olives and red wine. I would not argue, and the ubiquitous Lisboa red will fill the bill nicely.

A few natas for dessert, perhaps? Better still, if I was serving the cod, not the liver, I would make a creamy rice pudding, scented with lemon and cinnamon.

Hackney Gazette: Bacalhau à Brás is a typical dish of the Portuguese capital LisbonBacalhau à Brás is a typical dish of the Portuguese capital Lisbon (Image: Frances Bissell)Bacalhau à Brás (Serves 4)


Extra virgin olive oil

600 g waxy potatoes - peeled and shredded

1 large, mild onion - peeled and thinly sliced

Cloves of garlic, to taste - peeled and sliced

400 g prepared salt cod fillet - cut into small chunks

4-6 eggs - lightly beaten

Parsley - see recipe


Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan. If the potatoes have given off a good deal of liquid, dry on a clean tea towel as they need to fry, not stew or steam. Once the potatoes are a nice golden brown, transfer them to a plate while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Add more olive oil to the pan and gently sweat the onion for a few minutes. When it is beginning to soften, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more before adding the cod to the pan, together with more olive oil as necessary.

As the cod cooks break it up in the pan; traditionally it is shredded beforehand, but I have found little difference by breaking it up in the pan; I use a wooden fork and spoon for this. It is important not to crush the ingredients.

When the cod is just cooked, lightly stir in the beaten egg, and when this has cooked, finally return the potatoes to the pan. Once all is nicely combined, add chopped parsley and serve from the pan.

© Frances Bissell 2024. All rights reserved.