Last updated on 14-Apr-2022
For those who do not know this about me or are not familiar with the term, I am “capixaba“- a native of the state of Espírito Santo, in Brazil. I was born in the city of Vitória, the state capital, and lived between Vitória and Vila Velha (neighbouring city) until I moved to Toronto in my early twenties.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to get to know a little bit about a place is through the local food, and of all the traditional dishes from Espírito Santo cuisine, two are always at the top of the list: Moqueca Capixaba (fish stew) and Torta Capixaba (seafood pie)! Both are delicious, but I have to confess that in regards to the moqueca, I ended up adapting my version with some elements from the state of Bahia (where my hubby is from) and if you’d like, you can check out this tasty fusion in my Moqueca recipe 🙂 here on the blog!
And I can’t forget to mention the most iconic item of the Espírito Santo cuisine: the black clay pots, made by hand, which are great for preparing these two popular dishes (they are suitable for use in the oven and on the stove), and lend an extra charm when brought to the table.
Mentioned on a Wikipedia article for Brazilian cuisine, Torta Capixaba is recognized as one of the most famous dishes from the cuisine of the state of Espírito Santo. It’s traditionally prepared in a clay pot, and the recipe includes salted cod and fresh hearts of palm, along with other seafood, such as shrimp, shelled clams/mussels and crabmeat.
This fish pie has influences from Portuguese, indigenous and African culture. The origin of the dish goes back over 400 years (to the 17th century), and it is mainly the result of the Catholic-rooted traditions of coastal communities and the fishing villages, which consumed the pie during the Lent period due to abstaining from the consumption of red meat.
Among the various recipes and dishes that have a prominent place in the memories of my home country, this one occupies a special corner. It tastes like childhood to me. It tastes of tradition, of family get-togethers, of my mother’s and grandmother’s food. It’s a taste of “Easter is coming”, of living on the coast, of Portuguese influence with African and Indigenous touches, all mixed with love and perfuming the house with the smell of nostalgia. This dish is most often consumed by the ‘capixabas‘ during Semana Santa (Holy or Easter week), and especially on Good Friday, but it also stars on the menus of traditional restaurants or homes of the most adept throughout the year.
The recipe that my mother made was inherited from my maternal grandmother, and over time it became my reference, being well-known and requested at family gatherings. This version steers a little bit from tradition because it does not include other seafood (though it provides a delicious base to add shellfish if you’d like), but on the other hand, it has the advantage of simpler and faster preparation.
So let’s get to it! After checking the instructions with my mother – it was one of those situations of her knowing the steps by heart and the quantities by feel/taste, with no written recipe – and testing it at home, I’m sharing my family recipe below. I hope you try it, enjoy it, and who knows, maybe it will become an Easter (or other family reunions) tradition for you too?
If you have questions or feedback, get in touch on our social media or in the comments below. Thank you!
Cod Pie (Torta Capixaba)
- Traditional Brazilian clay pot or baking pan
- 600 g salted cod soak previously as needed to re-hydrate and remove excess salt
- 500 g hearts of palm fresh or from a can/jar, cut in small dice
- 1 tsp cloves roasted and ground (or to taste) - optional
- 80 g olives pitted, reserve some whole for decoration and chop the rest
- ½ cup olive oil
- 6 eggs
- 1 onion cut into rings, for decoration
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Boil the cod (soaked previously) for 6-8 minutes, let it cool slightly and shred finely, removing any traces of skin and bones.
- Meanwhile, cook the fresh heart of palm in salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain and squeeze with a clean kitchen towel to remove the excess moisture. If you are using canned/jarred hearts of palm, there's no need to pre-cook, just drain, rinse, chop and dry.
- Mix the shredded cod with the prepared heart of palm, the chopped olives, and the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and the ground cloves (if using) to taste.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Season with a pinch of salt. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and continue beating until incorporated. The mixture will be light and foamy, with a light yellow colour.
- Add 2/3 of the beaten eggs to the cod mixture. Transfer the mix to a traditional clay pot (without the lid) or a baking pan greased with olive oil, spread evenly.
- Cover with the rest of the beaten eggs. Garnish with the raw onion rings and reserved olives.
- Place in the preheated oven and bake until the top turns golden brown. Serve and enjoy!
- If you want to add shellfish, they must be cooked (make a small stew with olive oil, onion, paprika, tomato, salt, pepper, lemon juice and cilantro) and drained before adding to the cod mixture. Replace a portion of the cod or add some cleaned and deveined shrimp, shelled clams/mussels, and/or crabmeat.
- If you can't find (or don't want to use) the hearts of palm, replace them with shredded and chopped white cabbage (boiled), or finely-diced peeled zucchini (sautéed and drained if excess liquid).
Credit: Images by A Gazeta