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
- Cut the bacalao into large chunks (I would suggest 2-inch wide strips, cut in half crosswise, so they are about 3 inches long).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
Bacalao 'stewing' slowly in oil over a low heat
Oil cooling down