Salt cod (bacalao in Spanish / baccalà in Italian) is cod that has been preserved through drying and salting. It dates back over 500 years and it is a traditional ingredient in many countries on the Atlantic. I first had it in the tapas bars in Spain, where they put it in croquettes, cube and fry it, or mash it with potatoes and herbs and stuff peppers with it. Italians do many of the same dishes, often with raisins, capers, or olives. Baccalà is a classic component in the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.
You can find Bacalao at the fish counter of many nice grocery stores. It comes packed in a small wooden box…mine was imported from Nova Scotia. I combined several recipes to make these stuffed piquillo peppers. I served them with Iberico ham, Manchego, olives, and pan con tomate.
Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Bacalao and Mashed Potatoes
serves 6 as an appetizer
1 lb salt cod (1 box)
3 cups whole milk
3 cloves garlic, with skin, crushed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tblsp black peppercorns
2 small bay leaves
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 lb russet potatoes, skinned, cubed
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
12 roasted piquillo peppers from a jar, drained
1. Rinse the cod under cold running water to remove any surface salt. Place the pieces in a large non-reactive bowl, cover with water and refrigerate (covered) for 24 hours, changing the water several times.
2. Remove the cod from the water bath. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and cayenne. Place the cod in the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, being careful not to scorch the milk. Gently boil the cod until it flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes depending on the thickness.
3. Remove the cod and let cool. Strain and reserve the milk. When cod is cool, flake it into a large bowl and remove any bones or bits of skin. (I did this with my fingers and was very meticulous…you don’t want your guests catching a hidden fish bone)
4. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until tender and drain. Use a potato masher (or ricer if you have one) to mash the potatoes, adding the milk and olive oil to achieve desired consistency.
5. Add the flaked salt cod to the potatoes. Add smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully stuff each piquillo pepper with about 3 tblsp of the mixture. Place in an oiled casserole dish. When your guests arrive, cook peppers until heated through, about 15 or 20 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt.