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Spanish Regional Cuisine

Bacalao al Pil-Pil

Salt Cod in an Olive oil Emulsion

Bacalao al Pil-Pil is a classic Basque fare. After you prepare the garnish and simmer the cod for several minutes, you make the sauce by engaging the cod in a 'dance' with the olive oil to create an emulsion that looks very much like a mayonnaise. The dance is not without challenge, but even the patient novice cook can produce an excellent result.

To ensure success, bear in mind the following rules: Use only olive oil; other fats will not result in the superior emulsion this dish demands. Use the best salt cod you can find or salt it yourself. Use a cazuela or similar earthenware cooking vessel that can be used on the stove top. And finally, when you are ready to place the fish in the cazuela to begin the sauce, make sure the salt cod, olive oil, and cazuela are all lukewarm.

  • Serves 6


  • 2 pounds salt cod, desalted
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 small dried hot chile, seeded and cut into rings


Drain the salt cod and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 3-inch squares, leaving the skin intact. When cooking later in olive oil, the skin will release the needed gelatin to help emulsify the sauce.

In a 12-inch cazuela, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and the chile and fry, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the garlic starts to turn golden. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic and chile to a small bowl and reserve for garnish. Reserve the oil in the cazuela.

Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the cod pieces to the oil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, being careful not to let the oil become too hot. The oil should just barely sizzle around the edges of the fish pieces. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cod to a plate and then pour the olive oil into a wide heatproof bowl to cool. When the cod is cool enough to handle, remove any errant bones, leaving the pieces as intact as possible.

Return the cod pieces, skin side up and in a single layer, to the cazuela. At this point, make sure that the cazuela, the cod, and the reserved olive oil are all lukewarm.

Place the cazuela over medium heat and begin by spooning 2 or 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over the cod. It its here that the dance begins: using both hands, rotate the cazuela in circular motions over the burner. Continue the motion until the first drops of oil start to emulsify. You will know that the emulsion is beginning when the oil drops turn pale and cling to one another. Eventually the whole sauce will turn pale white.

Continue to rotate the cazuela, interrupting only to add the olive oil gradually, spoonful by spoonful, until all the oil is incorporated into the emulsion. Depending on the quality of the cod and the gelatin content of its skin, it will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to make the sauce.

Divide the cod evenly among individual plates and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with the reserved garlic and chile. Serve hot or warm.

See also...

112.8 Inch Cazuela - Terra Cotta Dish2.8 Inch Cazuela - Terra Cotta Dish:  A very versatile size cazuela – you might use it to make a small paella, or similar rice dish. Cazuelas, terra cotta dishes, have been used in Spain for literally thousands of years. Our cazuelas are unique in that they are made by potters who follow a Roman formula that has been employed for centuries in this area of Spain. Although terra cotta is nothing more complicated than moistened clay, low fired with an interior glaze so it can hold liquids, this particular technique that they follow involves including small pebbles in the mix which strengthens the bowl and increases its heat retention.

Wild Extra Virgin Olive OilWild Extra Virgin Olive Oil:  This precious organic wild olive oil may well be the best you have ever tasted. It is extracted using the same process as was used in the Middle Ages.

The process is half as efficient as a centrifuge --the modern technique used for virtually all other olive oils. But the oil is the ultimate: fragrant and flavorful and natural.

It is a balanced blend of buttery and tangy Arbequina and sweet Empeltre olives, which create a smooth, mellow “olivy” olive oil.

There is an ancient grove of olive trees in the Maestrazgo region, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, which had not been tended or harvested for generations

Premium Salt Cod Tenderloins (Solomillos de Bacalao) - Serves 2-4Premium Salt Cod Tenderloins (Solomillos de Bacalao): This is the very best bacalao from Spain: the top cut of the cod, the solomillo. Spanish fishermen catch these fish in the traditional manner using their own boats. The freshly caught fish is immediately hand-cleaned and packed in sea salt. This method has been used by these fishermen for centuries. The result is a firmer fish that is flakier when cooked. When you see the characteristic spots and stripes on the skin you will recognize that these gourmet pieces of bacalao are authentic, and not just a cod look-alike. The skin is retained so that you will experience the delicate flavor at its best.

Basque Wines

Fernando Ramirez de Ganuza - Reserva - 2000Fernando Remirez de Ganuza - Reserva - 2000: Wine Spectator - "This rich red shows dark yet alluring flavors of coffee, plum, prune and tobacco. It has a silky texture, firm tannins and a long finish. Sophisticated and harmonious; it should develop nicely. Drink now through 2015. 500 cases imported. 93"

Txomin Etxaniz - Txacoli (Chacolí) 2004Txomin Etxaniz - Txacoli (Chacolí) 2004: The Basque Country's fresh, white wine, called txakoli on home ground and chacolí elsewhere in Spain , is produced in the Region's three provinces. The DO, which encompasses the growing area in the province of Guipuzcoa (Gipuzkoa), is called Getariako Txakolina in Basque.

Related links

  • Basque Recipes: Basques live for cooking and eating. I haven't found a similar level of passion anywhere I have traveled. If we try to describe Basque cuisine, a fair answer might be that it is deeply felt, honors tradition, and respects the natural flavors of the ingredients. These qualities are on display in the significant number of dishes that are distinctively Basque. The international acclaim achieved by the new Basque cuisine movement led by Juan Mari Arzak is only the most recent example of how Basque cookery has influenced the tables of the rest of Spain and beyond.