Bacalhau de Natas

Bacalhau de Natas

Creamy Salt Cod

Holiday Salt Cod with Creamy Sauce

In Portuguese, we call this dish Bacalhau de Natas. The word Nata in Portuguese refers to cream, milk, or heavy cream— that goes on the creamy sauce.

If you’d like to keep this dish on the lighter side, you can skip the sauce completely (which is like a bechamel sauce), although I love the effect of the sauce with the rest of the dish as it does NOT penetrate the fish and vegetable layer, so the outcome is still on the light side. Less time spent cooking, means more time spent entertaining. Bake this recipe ahead of time, serve it with a glass of white wine, and you’re all set for this Holiday season! This recipe is inspired by Manuela Arrais and featured on my cookbook My Rio de Janeiro.

Bacalhau de Natas

Serves 8

 For the Cod and Vegetables:

1.8 lbs (820g) salt cod (measured dried)

2½ cups cold milk

2 lbs (908g) small young potatoes

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons + ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper (about ½ lb or 227g), thinly sliced

1 yellow bell pepper (about ½ lb or 227g), thinly sliced

1 green bell pepper (about ½ lb or 227g), thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

¼ cup fresh chopped parsley


For the Bechamel:

1 cup milk , plus the poaching milk

5 tablespoons (65g) unsalted butter

5 tablespoons (40g) all-purpose flour

½ cup (35g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne pepper


Equipment: One 9X13 inches baking dish, lightly coated with cooking spray


  • Prepare the Cod: Rinse the salt cod in cold water and place inside a large container. Fill with water, about 2½ gallons (the volume of water should be 10 to 15 times the size of the cod). Store in the refrigerator to soak overnight, changing the water at least 3 times per day (no, you don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night to change the water).
  • Remove the fish from the water and place in a medium-sized saucepan (cut the fish to fit the pan if necessary). Cover the fish with the milk. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until opaque, 15-20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the cod rest in the milk for at least 20 minutes, covered. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cod and strain the milk in a bowl. Flake the fish with your hands into small chunks, or place in a food processor, using the pulse mode for just a few seconds, being careful not to shred too much (you can keep the shredded cod for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator before using).
  • Place the potatoesin a large heavy saucepan and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until fork-tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and spread onto a plate. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice the potatoes ¼ inch thick. Set aside.
  • Place the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onions and peppers together over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, sweet, and translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Resist the temptation to use high heat, or the vegetables will brown. Add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the shredded cod and parsley and mix everything together. Set aside in the corner of the stove, off the heat, covered.
  • Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  • Prepare the Béchamel Sauce:You need 3 cups of milk altogether to prepare the béchamel sauce: 2 cups of the reserved milk from the poaching liquid and add the cup of fresh milk. Warm all the milk in a saucepan over low heat. In another saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it foams. Pour in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens. Taste before you season since the milk will be salty from the cod and season with salt —if it needs any— pepper, nutmeg, and a dash of cayenne pepper.
  • Lay half of the potatoes across the dish, spreading them evenly with your hands. Arrange half of the cod mixture on top, spreading it evenly. Repeat another layer of potatoes and cod. Drizzle ½ cup olive all over, and ladle the béchamel sauce on top (the sauce will not penetrate the dish, and that’s exactly what you want, just on top). Sprinkle Parmesan and bake in the oven until it looks bubbly and lightly golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.


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Lobster in Maine

Lobster in Maine

This summer, my husband Dean and I decided to send our kids to a summer camp in Maine, which requires a long drive down a straight highway from Connecticut.

I heard Maine is a terrific summer destination and vacation spot, so the thought of exploring the cold state during the summer comforted my Brazilian blood and desire to discover its regional assets and cuisine.

Maine has a lot of blueberries and potatoes, but it’s mostly mostly about lobsters. It’s as if the lobster abundance gives meaning to Maine, a symbol of the cold weather this far north.

Lobster in Maine 1

Lobster from Maine comes with a pedigree as fishmongers have managed to make their fisheries extremely efficient and sustainable.

Lobster in Maine 2

We stopped by a friendly drive in on the road called Cameron’s, where Thomas got one whole beast on the plate.



Cooking lobster alive can be quite daunting (more about that in a second), and even when the beast is already boiled and plated, it can still be intimidating. But Thomas took after his daddy’s love for shellfish and embraced the challenge. Lobster victory!

Thomas and his dad

Thomas and his dad

I ate a lobster BLT that was simply divine.

Lobster BLT

Lobster BLT

Lobster roll is a big issue here in Maine, and each eatery claims it should be done the way they prepare it. But there are arguments about it: mayo or butter? Chives and celery, or plain? Scallions perhaps? Lettuce? And what about the bread: hot dog bun or hamburger roll?

Bianca at Cameron’s

Bianca at Cameron’s

You may find variations across the board, but I have never eaten a bad lobster roll on my trip to Maine. They all range from good to wonderful.

The next day, after we dropped our kids at camp, we met with native author Charlie Wing and his wife Barbara.

Charlie Wing (left), Barbara, and Dean

Charlie Wing (left), Barbara, and Dean

They took us to a salty pier where fisherman dress in tall rubber boats and suspensory, looking like captains of the industry—as they really are— starting their day at 5 am to go fishing.

Lobster in Maine 8

Afterwards, we ate lunch at Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf & Grille

Lobster in Maine 9

looking over the low green mountains in the distance and listening to the water rippling against the hulls of fishing boats.

Lobster in Maine 10

The setting was magical, and the conversation engaging. The menu here represents the essence of this region and the ritual as well; there is no table service.

Menu at Holbrook’s

Menu at Holbrook’s

You pay by the window and wait until someone in the kitchen calls out loud for your number. The rest is between you and the lobster.

We brought a large cooler to bring lobsters home, after all, I wanted prepare rolls in my own kitchen. But before I cooked them, I needed to terminate their lives in the most humanly way. Searching through hundreds of articles, they all advised to freeze the beast for 15 minutes before plunging them into a big pot of boiling water. According to science research, this slows their metabolism. The operation brought memories of my training in cooking school and the first time I killed a lobster, watching their tails move as they slowly turn bright red. Not an easy task, regardless of all recommendations, but mission completed. My plan was to prepare a simple roll with pink meat covered in creamy sauce over a toasted and grilled bun and then, simply indulge. And that’s exactly what I did. Recipe inspired by Cook’s Illustrated.

Lobester Rolls

Serves 6:

1 lb lobster meat

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 stalck celery, finely diced

Zest of 1 lemon

Few drops of hot sauce, preferably Tabasco

2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 hot dog buns

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1- Cut lobster meat gently into ½-inch pieces and place in a bowl.

2- Add the mayo, celery, lemon, tabasco, and chives and fold carefull with a rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper.

3- Place a 12-inch skillet over low heat and add the butter until melted. Grill the buns in the skillet until crisp and lightly brownd on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.

4- Transfer buns to a platter and spoon the lobster salad into the buns. Serve immediately.

Camoeron’s Lobster House

18 Bath Road

Brunswick, ME

Tel: (207) 725-2886

Holbrook’s Lobster Wharf & Grille

129 Court Street

Bath, ME 04530

Tel: (207) 443-5231

Cuscuz Paulista

Cuscuz Paulista

Cuscuz Paulista da Dona Angelina

Serves 8- 10


One tube pan with capacity for 10 cups


1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

4 scallions (white and green parts), chopped (save some for garnish)

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 can (15 ¼ oz, 432g) corn

1 can (15oz, 425g) tomato sauce

2 cups polenta

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

4 hard-boiled eggs, 2 sliced and 2 roughly chopped

8.5 oz sardines packed in oil (from two cans, each with 4 3/8 oz, 125 g), scaled and bones removed


Freshly ground pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg


1. Brush the bottom and sides of the tube pan with olive oil. Garnish the bottom of the pan with thin slices of hard-boiled eggs and scallions and set aside.

2. In a medium size Dutch-oven, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, scallions, and small pinch of salt, and cook slowly, stirring regularly. Don’t let the onions turn dark, they should “sweat” their moisture becoming tender and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

3. Add the corn and peas and stir with a wooden spoon, cooking gently until everything gets hot, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the tomato sauce and simmer gently for 3 minutes.

5. In a bowl, place the polenta and pour 3 ½ cups of tap water; stir roughly with a wooden spoon. Pour the “wet” polenta in one stroke into the corn-pea mixture and cook, stirring until the polenta starts absorbing some of the liquid, about 5 minutes. You don’t want the mixture to be too wet or too dry, but it should be pasty and sticky. Season with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg.

6. Add the parsley, chopped egg, and sardines. Stir everything gently, being careful not to shred the fish.

7. While still hot, carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an off-set spatula. If you have a little extra mixture, you can use an individual ramekin greased with oil to save the extras (or nibble, like I do). Let the mixture cool at room temperature for 20 minutes then chill overnight.

8. Remove the cuzcus from the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. Run a knife around the edges and invert the mold onto a platter. Lift the mold. Serve at room temperature with a green salad on the side.

Seared Fresh Tuna with Hearts of Palm Tagliatelle and HorseRadish Sauce

Part three

Chef Ludmilla Soeiro shared this recipe with me and although not everyone will find Pupunha hearts of palm easily, I still wanted to share with you since it’s such a great technique. The recipe was translated and adapted. Enjoy!

Seared Fresh Tuna with Hearts of Palm Tagliatelle and Horseradish Sauce

(Serves 2)

Zuka Barra


1 lb fresh hearts of palm, preference Pupunha *

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb sushi-grade tuna, cut into two loins

Salt and pepper

1 bunch chives, finely chopped

½ cup jarred horseradish

½ cup heavy cream

2/3 cup whole milk

Teriaki sauce for garnish


Cut the hearts of palm horizontally into slices about ¼ inch thick. Cut each slice into super thin strips, simulating a tagilatelli shape.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and season with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Plunge the strips of hearts of palm into the water and cook until they it’s just soft, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the water and place on a plate. Cover with aluminum foil. Reserve the water.

In a medium saucepan, combine the horseradish, heavy cream, milk, and simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let it steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and keep warm.

Season the tuna with salt and pepper.  Cover the outside surface with chopped chives making sure it sticks. Place the remaining olive oil on a medium-sized non-stick skillet over high heat. Sear the tuna for about 2 minutes rotating the loins to create a nice crust, but make sure to keep the center raw, about 2 minutes. Remove the loins from the pan and let it rest on a cutting board. Cut the tuna into ¼ inch slices and arrange them on each plate.

Plunge the hearts of palm into the hot water just to heat it through and remove with the slotted spoon. Arrange attractively into a tagliatelli shape on the plate. Spoon the horseradish sauce over. Garnish with small circles of teriaki sauce.

Ludmilla Soeiro © 2010 © Zuka

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