- Course: Appetizer, Hors D'oeuvre, Tapas/Small Plates
- Skill Level: Moderate
- Cost: Splurge
- Favorited: 0 Times
Can be made ahead of time.
The Spanish region of Navarra is supplying the international marketplace with terrifically sweet, deep-tasting red peppers called piquillos; they come packed in brine in jars or cans. In Spain, it is very common at tapas bars to see stuffed piquillo peppers—as in the recipe below, where the peppers are stuffed with another Spanish favorite, bacalao (salt cod). This recipe can be completed 6 to 8 hours ahead and held at room temperature. The toothpick issue is up to you: Do you remove them from the piquillos, or leave them in? Hint: toothpicks are very big at Spanish tapas bars.
1. Place the soaked salt cod in a large saucepan, cover with water by 2 inches, and bring just to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before draining. Discard the water. Using your fingers, finely shred the cod, removing any bones and cartilage as you work.
2. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: Add half of the olive oil to a medium skillet and place over medium heat. Add half of the onions and all of the celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, 1 teaspoon of salt, the sugar, paprika, and thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cook gently until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pass the mixture through a food mill to make a loose, smooth puree. Taste for seasoning, set aside.
4. Make the salt cod stuffing: Heat the remaining olive oil and onions in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook gently for 5 minutes; add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the mixture brown. Raise the heat to medium, add the shredded salt cod, and stir well to coat with the flavored oil. Continue to cook about 5 minutes more, scraping up any fish bits that stick to the pan. Stir in the flour and, using a wooden spoon, add the warm milk, ½ cup at a time. Wait for each addition to be nearly absorbed before stirring in the next. When the last of the milk has been absorbed and the mixture resembles loose tuna salad, turn off the heat and let it cool. Season generously with black pepper.
5. Heat the oven to 350°F.
6. Pour oil into a large, heavy skillet to a depth of 1/3 inch and heat to 365°F. Stuff each piquillo pepper with about a tablespoon of the salt cod mixture and close with a toothpick. When ready to fry the peppers, dip each one in the egg and then the dredging flour, shaking off the excess. Fry the peppers in batches until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
7. Place the peppers in an ovenproof serving dish and top with tomato sauce. Bake for 15 minutes.
8. Serve at room temperature garnished with the parsley.
Salt cod varies in thickness and in saltiness, so soaking directions are necessarily imprecise. The goal is to return the fish to its original, moist, hydrated state, and to draw out most of its salt. Put the salt cod in a bowl and cover completely with cold water. Let the fish soak for 24 to 36 hours, changing the water at least 4 times during this period. It’s now ready to be used in any recipe calling for prepared salt cod.
Piquillo peppers, unique to the Ebro River Valley in Northern Spain, are harvested in the fall, roasted over wood fires, hand-peeled, and packed in their own juices (or brine) in cans or jars. Though their sweet flavor is reminiscent of roasted red bell peppers, they carry a grace note of piquancy that is very friendly to a cargo of bacalao. Before stuffing, drain the peppers and dry them on paper towels. Carefully remove any errant seeds that might cling to the interior flesh. Tienda.com sells the peppers in 8-ounce jars, each holding 8 to 12 whole peppers. Or, should you find yourself helplessly addicted, the peppers also come in 4.2-pound jars, each holding a minimum of 68 peppers.
Nutritional information does not reflect the soaking and draining of the salt cod, which dramatically reduces the sodium content of the recipe.