With one Michelin star behind him, awarded at the restaurant L’AND Vineyards, chef Miguel Laffan is the new ambassador for Riberalves cod, a brand that has challenged him to develop an entire series of creative dishes using the best traditional Portuguese curing method for the country’s most emblematic product.
Because Miguel Laffan believes the kitchen is essentially an identity, this raw material has enjoyed a constant presence in all his menus. It is no coincidence that Michael Laffan accepted Riberalves’ invitation to become the ambassador for cod in Portugal, and with it the challenge of creating new dishes and ideas that use the best Portuguese cod in Nouvelle cuisine.
“I’m passionate about cod and that’s why I enthusiastically accepted Riberalves’ challenge,” the chef emphasises. He believes that “a menu in a Portuguese restaurant without cod dishes and cod on its menu doesn’t make sense” as nobody knows cod cuisine better than the Portuguese. But cod is not only tradition, it is also the future: because of its gastronomic versatility and its quality; it is an extremely healthy protein and a truly wild fish of sustainable origin, and one of the tastiest of all. Traditional Portuguese cod curing is a technique that has been transmitted from generation to generation for centuries, and this will continue in the years to come, shaping the future of our cuisine. “Riberalves has made a huge effort in the preservation of our history and I am honoured to represent this brand,” concludes Miguel Laffan.
“I’ve never hidden the fact that I am passionate about this fantastic fish,” says the chef, and he goes on: “Nobody cooks and eats cod like the Portuguese do. While other countries consume fresh fish, in Portugal we have worked for centuries on perfecting a traditional way to cure this fish, and we have become experts in a protein cured in salt, which offers us an endless amount of options to work with in the kitchen. Conserving cod by salting democratises the consumption of cod and facilitates its distribution throughout the country, making Portugal the world’s largest consumer of cod; each inhabitant consumes approximately six kilos of cod per year,” he explains.
A menu in a Portuguese restaurant without cod dishes and cod on its menu doesn’t make sense
Cod evolved towards this historical dimension in Portugal, it is even associated with religious ceremonies, such as festivals or fasting. It is, therefore, part of our culture. But cod is not only very popular in Portuguese cuisine because of this heritage. Cod is a very valuable protein; it has a fantastic culinary potential as it is extremely versatile and is almost always of very high-quality.
According to Laffan, the secret of Portuguese cod’s unique flavour resides “in its traditional curing method.” The key, in the end, lies in the method’s simplicity: it is about reproducing as faithfully as possible the process that Portuguese fishermen used in the past. After the cod has been fished, it is immediately placed in salt, initiating its maturation process. This salting period is long, and lasts at least six months or even a year. This time-frame ensures the ideal flavour and texture. The drying process is also important, the cod must be placed in a location that has the perfect percentage of moisture. No more ingredients are added.
Once in the kitchen, the cod dominates because of its great versatility, inspiring both summer and winter recipes, appetizers or salads; it can be served grilled, fried or roasted. Last but not least, cod’s nutritional value is also what makes it the best option: “Not all fast food is unhealthy,” the chef reveals. When we cook cod, we are using a fish that has 100% wild origins and no other ingredients added to it during its production process. This fish is one of the best sources of protein available in our diet. It offers 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of fish. And it is equally low in fat and easy to digest, making it the ideal fish for a healthy and balanced diet. “I was already passionate about cod, but what I have learnt about it through my relationship with Riberalves has made me even more passionate about this fish which has everything, and is able to easily reinvent itself every-day in our kitchens,” says Laffan.
Miguel Laffan’s story includes sea travel, discoveries and the meeting of cultures. And the Portuguese gastronomic identity is also shaped by those three things. In his mission as a chef, Miguel Laffan is always looking for a contemporary reinterpretation of our national gastronomic roots; he adds value to the perfect balance of flavours, fuses influences from other geographies and slips in certain secret and often exotic ingredients. And with the L’AND Vineyards restaurant in Montemor-o-Novo, Laffan has found the perfect place to develop his art. With a unique culinary language, he was awarded his first Michelin Star in 2015, and the honour was repeated in 2017.
My relationship with Riberalves has made me even more passionate about this fish which has everything, and is able to easily reinvent itself every-day in our kitchens
Throughout his career, Laffan has worked with the best masters (three-Michelin-star Antoine Westermann at Relais & Châteaux Fortaleza do Guincho; French Michelin-star Roland Chanliuad at Le Jardin des Remparts and two-Michelin-star Jean MarcBanzo at Le Clous de la Violette, in Provence). He has also been head chef for numerous luxury establishments in Madeira, such as the Relais & Châteaux Casa Velha do Palheira, the Quinta da Casa Branca hotel and the Nini Andrade Silva restaurant, in Madeira Design Centre. His cuisine has its roots in the land where it is elaborated and in native products from Alentejo, such as mushrooms, cheeses or fish from the Costa Vicentina. But it is expressed in an avant-garde manner, incorporating ingredients from other cultures such as spices, herbs, seeds and tropical fruits.