Monday, February 8, 2010

Bacalao al pil pil (salt cod with pil pil sauce)

This is the classic bacalao recipe. In it, the cod is slowly stewed in olive oil which has been flavoured with garlic and chilli, and the oil is then stirred until it emulsifies as a result of the gelatine released by the cod skin. If you want to, you can add a little parsley or even saffron to the sauce, give it a garnish or whatever.

I have to admit that I was a little scared of trying this at first, as the internet is full of complicated advice and people who claim they have never successfully made pil pil. In fact, it is very easy. The keys to it are:
  • making sure that the oil is never too hot (think of it as very gentle stewing in oil, rather than frying) - an earthenware cazuela is good for this, but a heavy-bottomed pan and a low heat should be fine
  • using a tea strainer to emulsify the sauce (the traditional method involves from 15 to 30 minutes of circular shaking of your pan, but with a tea strainer you can achieve the same result in 5 minutes, with minimum effort).

750g desalted bacalao
500ml extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
2 dried chillies, soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water

  1. Cut the bacalao into large chunks (I would suggest 2-inch wide strips, cut in half crosswise, so they are about 3 inches long).
  2. Use a large, heavy bottomed frying pan (or, even better, a large earthenware cazuela, as in the photo). Pour the oil into it, add the garlic and whole chillies, and heat gently. After a few minutes, and before the garlic has begun to brown, remove the garlic and chillies from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Make sure the oil is not too hot (it doesn't matter if it is a little on the cold side at this stage), and add the cod pieces skin side down. Cook very gently for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. With a fish slice, remove the cod pieces to a plate, pour the oil into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool until it is tepid.
  4. Once the oil is tepid, use a ladle to return about half of it to the pan. Put it on a very low heat, and stir it in a circular motion with a tea strainer until it emulsifies. (About 5 minutes.) It should be the consistency of a light homemade mayonnaise. If the sauce is very thick, then just add a little more oil from the bowl and keep stirring. If it starts to congeal a bit, then just give it another whisk with the strainer.
  5. Transfer the fish to individual plates and pour some sauce over it. (If you want to serve the fish hot, then heat it through in the pan with the sauce before serving.)
Cazuela with oil, garlic and chillies

Bacalao 'stewing' slowly in oil over a low heat

Oil cooling down


Madalen Goiria said...

That´s why it´s called pi-pil, because when it simmers so slowly, the sauce goes pil-pil in little bubbles.
This cod looks beautiful, Tim.

Spillerjzy said...

Thanks Tim, it looks fab. I will definitely have a go at making this and let you know how it goes.

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