The Best of Basque

Ultimate Basque Salt Cod & Pil Pil Sauce Recipe

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The Basque Country is renowned for its vibrant culture, picturesque landscapes, and, most notably, its exquisite culinary traditions. Among the array of dishes that have put Basque cuisine on the map, Bacalao al Pil Pil stands out as a testament to the region’s love affair with simple ingredients transformed into extraordinary flavors. This dish encapsulates the essence of the Basque cooking philosophy: respect for the produce, precision in technique, and the celebration of food as an art form.

The rich tradition of Bacalao al Pil Pil

Bacalao al Pil Pil is more than just a meal; it is an experience, a storied tradition passed down through generations. The dish has its roots deep in the heart of Basque culture, where the Atlantic Ocean provides a bounty of seafood, and age-old techniques meet the ingenuity of local chefs. Salt cod, or bacalao, was historically preserved by fishermen to sustain them through long voyages. Over time, it became a staple, and the Pil Pil sauce — a magical emulsion of olive oil, garlic, and guindilla chilli — provided a way to bring new life to this preserved fish.

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Ultimate Basque Salt Cod & Pil Pil Sauce Recipe 3

Essential ingredients for authentic basque flavor

To recreate the authentic flavor of Bacalao al Pil Pil, one must start with the highest quality ingredients:

  • Salt Cod (Bacalao): The centerpiece of the dish. It must be desalted by soaking in water for 24 to 48 hours, with water changes every 8 hours.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: The lifeblood of the sauce, providing richness and a velvety texture.
  • Garlic: Thinly sliced or minced, garlic adds a pungent depth to the sauce.
  • Guindilla Chilli: A traditional Basque pepper that imparts a gentle heat and a distinctive flavor.

The secret to emulsifying pil pil sauce

Achieving the perfect Pil Pil sauce is both an art and a science. The process involves gently heating olive oil with garlic and chilli, then carefully adding the desalted cod. The key is in the movement — a subtle, constant swirling of the pan that encourages the gelatin released by the cod to emulsify with the olive oil, creating a creamy, luxurious sauce.

Should the sauce refuse to thicken, there are tricks to coax it along, such as adding a spoonful of cold water or another piece of cod to provide more gelatin. Patience and practice are the secret ingredients here.

Your recipe Step-by-Step

1. Desalt the Cod: Begin this process at least 24 hours in advance. Rinse the salt cod under cold water, then immerse it in a large bowl of fresh water. Store in the refrigerator, changing the water 3-4 times over the soaking period.

2. Prepare the Ingredients: Gather your extra virgin olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, and guindilla chilli. Cut the desalted cod into serving pieces if necessary.

3. Cook the Garlic and Chilli: In a skillet, gently heat the olive oil and cook the garlic and chilli until the garlic is golden brown, being careful not to burn it.

4. Add the Cod: Place the cod pieces into the pan, skin side down. Keep the heat low and begin the emulsification process by moving the pan in a circular motion.

5. Emulsify the Sauce: Continue the circular motion until the sauce begins to thicken. This can take some time, so be patient.

6. Serve and Enjoy: Once the sauce has reached the desired consistency, serve the Bacalao al Pil Pil hot, accompanied by crusty bread to mop up the delicious sauce.

Nutritional profile and serving tips for bacalao al pil pil

A single serving of Bacalao al Pil Pil is a nutritional powerhouse, boasting approximately 1233 calories, 70 grams of fat, and a whopping 143 grams of protein. While the dish is rich, it is also incredibly satisfying and can be balanced with a fresh green salad or roasted vegetables.

When serving, presentation is key. A traditional earthenware cazuela can be used to maintain the warmth of the dish and add an authentic touch to your table setting. Remember to spoon plenty of the Pil Pil sauce over the cod before serving to ensure each bite is coated with that irresistible Basque flavor.

In the Basque Country, food is an expression of community and history. By mastering this recipe, you not only create a delicious meal but also partake in a culinary tradition that has been savored for centuries.

Bacalao al Pil Pil recipe is a celebration of Basque heritage, an ode to the ocean’s bounty, and a reflection of the region’s culinary prowess. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a curious foodie, the journey to mastering Pil Pil sauce is as rewarding as it is delicious. Buen provecho!

People also asked…

Is bacalao from Spain?

Salted, dried codfish, known as bacalao, is the main ingredient in this Spanish-style fish stew originating from the Basque region of Spain. This traditional dish is enjoyed across all Spanish-speaking countries, with each nation having its own unique twist on the recipe.

What does it mean for a meal to be al pil pil?

An “al pil pil” meal refers to a traditional cooking method from the Basque Country in which olive oil is emulsified with other ingredients such as garlic and chili pepper to cook fish, typically cod, until a thick sauce known as pil pil is created.

Author Profile

Irene was born and raised in Bilbao. She has a deep rooted passion for her country and culture. She has a Bachelors degree in education and has traveled to over 85 countries throughout the world.
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