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Cod with Pil Pil Sauce Recipe - Bacalao al Pil Pil


Bacalao al Pil Pil is a traditional dish from the Basque Country (el Pais Vasco); and is well known all over Spain, and popular with Spaniards and tourists alike. It is made with salt cod, garlic and olive oil. It is “sabroso” or tasty and although the pil pil sauce, which is an emulsion sauce can be tricky to thicken, there are some simple tricks at the bottom of this recipe.

Prep Time: 24 hours, 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 24 hours, 30 minutes


  • 2 lb (1 kg) boneless salt cod
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup pluc 3 Tbsp Spanish virgin olive oil
  • 1 small hot pepper or 1/2 jalapeno pepper


This Cod with Pil Pil Sauce makes 4 servings.

Note: The salted cod fish must be soaked in water for AT LEAST 24 hours, preferably 48 hours before cooking. This is necessary to leach out the salt. Change the water 2-3 times in a 24-hour period. If this is not done, the fish will be so salty that it will not be edible!

Cut the cod into smaller pieces, so it has more area to absorb the water. Rinse the pieces under cold water and rub the outside to remove excess salt.

Place the chunks of fish into a large (13”x9”) glass baking dish in a single layer. Add water to the dish until fish is completely covered by the water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Change water 2-3 times over the next 24 hours.

Rinse the cod and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove any bones and cut into large pieces (3”x 3”).

Peel and cut garlic cloves into slices. Cut off tops of peppers and remove seeds. Then cut the peppers into rings and set aside.

In a heavy-bottom casserole dish or large open flame-proof clay dish, pour a few tablespoons of olive oil and heat on low. Sauté the garlic until the slices begin to brown. Remove garlic and set aside.

Allow the oil in pan to cool to lukewarm. When oil is cool, add the cod (skin side up) and begin to stir slowly the oil. Place the pan or casserole back on low heat and continue to stir the oil without stopping. Drizzle in the rest of the olive oil and continue to stir for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Be sure to maintain the heat very low. The fish will release juices and those juices will mix with the oil and will form a thick emulsion. Place the garlic and pepper on top of the fish and allow to cool for 5 minutes and the pil pil sauce will thicken.

Note: If the pil pil sauce does not result in a thick emulsion, some Spanish cooks use the following “tricks” to obtain the right consistency:

  • Pour the sauce from the pan and use a stick blender to whip the sauce a bit. Be careful not to whip it too long or it will thicken too much.
  • Remove half of the sauce from the pan, add a pinch of corn starch to it and use a stick blender to whip. Be careful not to whip it too long or it will thicken too much. Return to pan and stir to mix in.
  • While stirring the sauce in the pan, add 1-2 Tbsp whole milk to thicken.

Although purists may cringe at the above methods, they can salvage a meal.

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