Salted Cod with Cream (Bacalhau com Natas)

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!

Salted Cod with Cream (Bacalhau com Natas)
Serves 4
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
55 min
  1. 4 fillets salt cod (about 1 lb.)
  2. 3 lbs of potatoes, peeled and cubed
  3. 1 onion
  4. 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  5. 5 tbsp olive oil
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. 1 pint (473 ml) heavy whipping cream
  8. 1 cup milk
  9. 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  10. 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  11. 2 tbsp corn starch
  12. 1/2 tsp salt
  13. pepper to taste
  1. Soak the salted cod fillets in water for 24 hours, changing water twice (keep the cod in the fridge).
  2. Parboil the cod for about 5 minutes in water.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. Add the cod, sautee a little and then add the potatoes, mixing all together. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  7. 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.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. Take out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes and serve with chopped fresh parsley on top.
  1. This dish is good served with a green salad, sautéed spinach or just by itself with fresh parsley.
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18 Responses to Salted Cod with Cream (Bacalhau com Natas)

  1. What a beautiful recipe!! Looks so comforting and elegant at the same time. Thanks for sharing – will have to try this.

  2. That looks so wonderful. I bet it tastes as good as it looks. Perfect for a cool evening at the beach with that wonderful wine.

  3. This looks beautiful and delicious. I’ve never heard of it but I love trying authentic regional recipes. I’ve bookmarked it and hope to try it soon. Thanks for sharing!
    — Rivki @ Healthy Eating for Ordinary People

  4. Arez at #

    I never liked Bacalhau growing up but my mother makes it all the time, in so many ways. It always looks amazing, but I just don’t like seafood, my Portuguese parents are baffled by dislike.

    Glad to see someone sharing some traditional Portuguese cuisine :)

  5. I’d like to add this recipe to my comfort food lists. Tchin-tchin!

  6. I love bacalhau, but could try more new recipes. Apart from this one, nicely photographed! i do bacalhau escondido. A little lighter as no frying of potatoes.
    I grew up in portugal and now live in canada.

    • Hi Catherine! I’m glad you found this bacalhau recipe. Bacalhau escondido is another awesome way to prepare this fish, great choice.

  7. kks at #

    I made this today. Have not eaten it yet, but the aromas and texture are just wonderful.

  8. David at #

    Very interesting recipe and one that I appreciate as a cook.

    One thing though. Any idea why the best cod comes from Norway rather than Canada? Funny that Portuguese fishermen fished the Grand Banks of Canada for hundreds perhaps thousands of years braving the difficult journey across the Atlantic to fish the largest, most abundant cod stocks in the world. But no more.

    If you truly love food I think you need to comment on the sustainability of our food systems. The Grand Banks cod fishery was devastated by over fishing. A moratorium on cod fishing was imposed in 1992 and to date (2013) the cod stocks have not recovered. That is why the best cod comes from Norway (for now). Over fishing is causing fisheries to collapse around the world.

    Greater awareness of where our beloved food comes in articles like these would go a long way to promote sustainable agriculture and fisheries.

    Thank you

    David McNeil
    Montreal, Canada

    • olav rune godø at #

      Dave, Interesting comment. The success of any bacalao recepie depends on the quality of the fish. The Norwegian stock of spawning cod is now at its highest level in decades. An the best bacalao comes from mature cod taken during the month before spawning. Something with the texture of the flesh that you dont find the rest of the year. Having controle of the whole process gives the added value of the meal. Today I am preparing this dish from salted ling fished, salted and dried by myself. My mouth is already flowing in water. Remember – not only cod makes good bacalao.

      Olav Rune Godø

    • heidi from montreal at #

      great comment david!

  9. Adrian House at #

    Hi, thanks a lot for this recipe! I just made it for me and my parents and it turned out great. I found I had to cook it for about 30 mins before broiling, maybe because I didn’t cut the potatoes as small. But fantastic, delicious recipe. I live in Newfoundland and often cook salt cod, was looking for something different and you delivered it! Cheers

  10. Mieke Leysner at #

    Hi Teresa, thank you for sharing, here in The Netherlands we can find ,,bakkeljauw” in the chinese toko’s, with skin etc. My mother in law, from South America, learned me to prepare it. But it is much different as your recipe. So i am going to try this for sure, it really looks good!

  11. Andreia at #

    Ola desculpe mas tenho que corrigir uma coisa! !!! O ” bacalhau com nata” leva natas e você colocou molho bechamel. … nao é a mesma coisa!!!!!!

    • Sim, leva natas, é o que está lá na minha receita!

  12. June at #

    Codfish is my favorite fish ever

  13. PG at #

    Can you use Tilapia loins instead of Cod and half/half whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream? I am making this dish today but won’t have time to soak the fish for 24 hrs. Will that be ok?