Bacalao al Pil-Pil: From the Sea to the Table

Bacalao al Pil-Pil: From the Sea to the Table

Bacalao al Pil-Pil, a timeless Spanish culinary masterpiece, has been captivating taste buds for generations. This dish, also known as Bacalao Pil Pil or Bacalao al Pilpil, showcases the art of creating an emulsified pil-pil sauce that envelops succulent codfish, resulting in a symphony of flavors that celebrates the sea’s bounty.

The History of Bacalao al Pil-Pil: From Preservation to Culinary Delight

Rooted in Basque cuisine, Bacalao al Pil-Pil holds a storied past dating back to centuries when preserving fish was essential for sustenance. Salting and drying codfish, particularly Atlantic codfish, allowed sailors to store fish for long voyages. As culinary evolved, the dish transformed from a practical necessity to a gastronomic delight, cherished on Iberian shores and beyond.

Unveiling the Enigma: The Pil-Pil Sauce and Its Culinary Charisma

The true magic of Salted cod lies in the creation of the revered Pil-pil sauce. This emulsified wonder forms when the codfish’s natural gelatin interacts with olive oil, resulting in a velvety, garlicky elixir that harmonizes with the fish. The process demands finesse – a delicate balance between gentle stirring and preserving the integrity of the fish.

Crafting the Perfect Bacalao al Pil-Pil: A Symphony of Ingredients and Technique

Variations and Innovations:

While the core of salted cod remains steadfast, regional variations and contemporary twists have emerged. Some variations introduce additional ingredients, such as roasted red peppers or herbs, to elevate the flavor profile. Others experiment with alternative fish varieties, showcasing the versatility of the pil-pil technique.

Codfish Chronicles:

Atlantic codfish, revered for its delicate texture and mild taste, reigns supreme in this dish. Meticulously desalting the fish is paramount to achieving the desired flavor balance, ensuring that the saltiness is just right. This culinary ballet brings forth the “best codfish” experience, a canvas for the pil-pil sauce to perform its enchantment.

Tips and Tricks for Mastering Bacalao al Pil-Pil:

  1. Desalting with Precision: Patiently desalt the codfish to remove excess salt, achieving a harmonious blend of flavors.
  2. Oil Temperature Control: Gradually heating the oil prevents the garlic from overcooking and maintains the oil’s integrity for the pil-pil sauce.
  3. Gelatin Liberation: Gently agitate the fish to encourage the release of natural gelatin, essential for the pil-pil sauce’s creamy texture.
  4. Timing is Key: Carefully monitor the cooking time of the codfish to ensure it is flaky and cooked through, but not overdone.

Exploring Global Palates:

As culinary traditions intertwine and evolve, Bacalao al Pil-Pil finds its way onto international tables. This dish transcends borders from tapas bars in Spain to modern fusion eateries, offering a delectable testament to the marriage of technique and taste.

A Culinary Symphony:

Bacalao al Pil-Pil, a symphony of history, technique, and flavors, embodies the artistry of Spanish cuisine. Its pil-pil sauce, a product of skill and tradition, elevates the humble codfish into a gastronomic masterpiece that continues to captivate the senses. With a rich history, regional adaptations, and a touch of modern flair, salted cod stands as a testament to the enduring allure of culinary exploration.

Bacalao al Pil Pil

Bacalao al Pil-Pil: From the Sea to the Table

Bacalao al Pil-Pil is a traditional Spanish dish made with salted codfish (bacalao) cooked in olive oil with garlic and chili peppers. The dish gets its name from the emulsified sauce ("pil-pil") that forms as a result of the combination of olive oil, fish gelatin, and vigorous stirring. Here's a basic recipe for making Bacalao al Pil-Pil.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Desalting Time 1 day
Total Time 1 day 55 minutes
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 4


  • 1 lb (450g) Salted codfish Desalted and deboned
  • 1 cup (240ml) Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 Garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 1-2 Dried chili peppers (such as guindilla or Piquillo), chopped (adjust to taste)
  • Salt (if needed, but be cautious due to the saltiness of the cod)
  • Fresh parsley chopped (for garnish)


Desalting the Codfish:

  • Rinse the salted codfish under cold running water to remove excess salt.
  • Place the codfish in a bowl of cold water and let it soak for at least 24 hours, changing the water 3-4 times. This process will help remove the remaining salt from the fish.

Preparing the Codfish:

  • Once the codfish is properly desalted, pat it dry with paper towels and cut it into serving-sized portions.

Cooking the Pil-Pil Sauce:

  • In a deep, wide skillet or clay pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.
  • Add the sliced garlic and chili peppers to the oil. Cook them gently until the garlic becomes golden and fragrant, but not browned.
  • Carefully remove the garlic and chili peppers from the oil and set them aside.

Cooking the Codfish:

  • Increase the heat to medium and gently place the codfish fillets into the oil. Cook the fish for about 5-7 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fillets. The cod should be cooked through and flaky.

Emulsifying the Sauce:

  • Gently move the codfish fillets around in the oil as they cook. This will help release the natural gelatin from the fish.
  • As the gelatin is released, the oil and gelatin will begin to emulsify, forming the characteristic pil-pil sauce. You will notice the sauce thickening and becoming slightly creamy.

Assembling the Dish:

  • Return the previously cooked garlic and chili peppers to the skillet with the codfish. Gently mix them with the pil-pil sauce.


  • Once the pil-pil sauce is well emulsified and the fish is cooked, remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Serve the Bacalao al Pil-Pil hot, garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy your Bacalao al Pil-Pil with some crusty bread or boiled potatoes to soak up the delicious sauce.


    Remember that Bacalao al Pil-Pil requires some practice to perfect the emulsification of the sauce. The key is to gently move the fish around in the oil without breaking it apart too much, allowing the gelatin to create a creamy, flavorful sauce.
    Keyword fish

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