Salted Cod or bacalhau is probably the most traditional ingredient you can find in Portugal, especially during holiday seasons. Considered a delicacy, there are 1001 ways to cook this dried and salted codfish, and everybody knows the best quality kind comes from Norway. Naturally, Portugal is the world biggest importer of the country’s national dish, also called the “faithful friend” (fiel amigo) of Portuguese cuisine.
Bacalhau is a savory fish, with white flaky meat, low in fat and with high levels of zinc, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iodine and some essentials amino acids.
Usually is served with potatoes and paired with a good Portuguese wine. In Portugal, every grocery store sells bacalhau, but here in the “New World” is not so commonly found. Although is not difficult to buy it online, most of the times is not the superior extra quality that we found in Portugal. It is easy to find cod fillets, fresh or salted (though not well dried), from Canada, but the best flaky dried and salted cod comes from Norway and has the “Norge” seal to attest its quality and origin. Nevertheless, even the small and thin fillets from Canada are good enough to prepare dishes like “Bacalhau a Bras” or this “Bacalhau com Natas” I present today.
Don’t take me wrong, but being a Portuguese my palate is culturally developed to easily identify the best salted cod. Usually, the cod is classified being of first or second category and each category has different classifications. As an example, from the first category, it can be classified as special if has weight superior to 3 kg. But not only the weight is signal of better salted cod, it also needs to have the right cut, had been salted and dried following the traditional method, do not present lesions and have the right color. Any part of the cod is not to be wasted and each recipe uses different parts of the fish.
This baked recipe includes potatoes, onion, garlic and an extra creamy Bechamel sauce.
I couldn’t help but paired this exquisiteness with a good white “green wine” (Vinho Verde), served very chilled. Vinho Verde is the Demarcated Region in Minho, North of Portugal. The wine is light and fresh and mainly consumed within a year.
Making this dish felt like reviving the unique taste of Portuguese cuisine, sparkling my roots and invigorating the sweet word “saudade“. Nothing better to complete this comfort zone than listening to the unparalleled music Fado. Tchin-tchin!
- 4 fillets salt cod (about 1 lb.)
- 3 lbs of potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 onion
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pint (473 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp corn starch
- 1/2 tsp salt
- pepper to taste
- Soak the salted cod fillets in water for 24 hours, changing water twice (keep the cod in the fridge).
- Parboil the cod for about 5 minutes in water.
- Flake the fillets and remove the bones and skin if it’s the case (the fillets I got came without skin and bones, so I skipped this step). Set aside.
- Peel the potatoes, wash, cut in small cubes and fry with 3 tbsp of olive oil just until look like cooked (do not over fry). Set aside.
- Slice the onion in thin rings, minced the garlic and fry all with the 2 tbsp of olive oil left and a bay leaf until soft and translucent (around 5-8 minutes).
- Add the cod, sautee a little and then add the potatoes, mixing all together. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Note: Since the cod is already salted, you don’t need to add any salt during this cooking process. I just added some to the sauce.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Prepare the Bechamel sauce: in a medium skillet, melt 2 tbsp of butter and slowly add the corn starch mixing well. Add the milk, heavy whipping cream and mix until well incorporated. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook over low-heat for about 10 minutes until the sauce turn into a rich creamy texture.
- Add 2/3 of this mixture to the cod, potatoes and onion mix and pour into a large baking dish (or two glass loaf pans like the ones I use in the picture). Cover the mix with the rest of Bechamel sauce and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
- After that time, turn in the broil and gratin for more 5-8 minutes, keeping an eye in the oven to not let it burn (just until you get a golden crust on top).
- Take out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes and serve with chopped fresh parsley on top.
- This dish is good served with a green salad, sautéed spinach or just by itself with fresh parsley.