Origin: Basque Country
Bacalao (cod) al pil-pil is recipe originally from the Basque country, like any pil-pil preparation. It may be more myth than history, but there's a story that tells that this Spanish dish was created during the 2nd Carlist war, when a merchant ordered 20 or 22 specimens of cod before the siege of Bilbao began. Instead of 20 or 22 fish, he got 20,022.
The legend says that the merchant tried to sell most of the excess cod he had received in towns of the Cantabric region but the second siege of Bilbao began. It was a fortunate mistake, as there was an important shortage of food in the city, and lucky that they had enough olive oil as well. This two factors helped palliate the famine in the Basque city.
The story says that this merchant became a rich man and one of the most important business men in Bilbao. This dish was particularly popular during Lent, as fish was the only meat source people were allowed to consume. However this is one version of history. There are other theories that claim that bacalao al pil-pil was the natural evolution of a dish called Bacalao a la Provenza or similar cod dishes.
Anyhow, despite it's dubious origin, what makes bacalao al pil pil such a successful dish? We believe it lies in the simplicity of its ingredients: cod, olive oil and chili. If you happen to visit Spain, most bars and restaurants in Spain will serve it so make sure you give it a try.
There is however some debate surrounding this seemingly simple cod recipe. That debate concerns the way that the cod should be cooked. Some people believe that the cod should first be cooking skinside up for five minutes, before being flipped over and then performing the pil pil process. Meanwhile others say that the cod should be cooked skinside down first, and should be skinside up during the pil pil pricess. Both sides claim that theirs is the best way for releasing the gelatine from the fish to make the sauce. You may of course, cook the cod the way you like. You could even experiment and try it both ways to see which way works best!
One of the good and bad things about bacalao al pil pil is that it has a high calorie content. This is great if you want to make a dish that will keep you filled up withcalories for the cold winter months. However, if you are on a diet then this is probably not the dish for you. Another advantage of this dish is that it has a very strong salty flavour, however the salt is not added meaning that it is not bad for you. Naturally, the fish itself brings all manner of goof nutrients too, especially some natural oils that are good for joints and bones.
Bacalao al pil pil is a tricky Spanish recipe and does require an odd sort of dance in order to make the pil pil sauce just right. However don't be put off as even the most novice chef, with a little patience, can produce an excellent example of the dish. To make sure you get it right, here are a few quick tips. Only use olive oil as other oils and fats do not produce the same emulsion effect. Use salt cod if you can, and if not salt your own! Try and use a cazuela or another earthenware cooking dish that can be used on the hob. And if you do make a mistake, you will still have something that is edible and tasty. Don't forget - practise makes perfect!