Ajoarriero, which literally means mule driver's garlic, is original from Spanish northern regions, this dish, like many other typical Spanish food, made its debut first in eateries and inns and only many years later did it reach the tables of finer restaurants. However it was created by, surprise surprise, mule drivers. However it's name refers to how the dish is spiced, as it actually is a codfish preparation.
The mule drivers who went to and fro Saragossa and Bilbao using the route that crossed Vitoria and Pamplona would spend the night at inns along the road, but they would stop alongside the river bank, or wherever they considered it was a good spot for their animals to rest, for a meal.
In those times it wasn't easy to preserve packed meals, specially in summer when temperatures could be very high, so they couldn't carry desalted and soaked cod, as it would naturally spoil.
These guys didn't have a lot of time either, as in those days it was always the first mule driver to arrive in town that would be able to sell all of his animals with ease. Back in that time, they made ajoarriero by lighting a fire and the cod chunks would be cooked on top of hot rocks or else they would hang the cod from stakes over the flames. The heat would make the fish ooze salt, yet they would only remove the fish when it got a blackish hue.
The fish pieces would be then rinsed in river water and squeezed until they formed humid cod balls. In the meanwhile crabs would be captured (now there aren't many left, but they were abundant then).
The mule drivers would pour some oil in a clay pot over the fire and add as many garlic cloves as people. They would also add red chili, green peppers and tomatoes and to top it all an egg per person. Ajoarriero is a simple dish to make.
However ajoarriero's recipe is not an exact science, as it was an itinerant dish there are regional variations, for example in some places they add potatoes, and the cooks will sometimes add other ingredients according to taste and availability. In Pamplona it received the name of "Bacalao de Pamplona" and it used to be one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite dish while he lived in that city.
Preparation (4 to 6 portions):