There are some dishes that to me don’t sound well translated because the original name implies a traditional dish, whereas the translation is barely an explanation of what the dish is. This is one of those dishes…I could have titled it “Piquillo peppers filled with bacalao” or “bacalao bechamel-filled piquillo peppers”…but it’s nowhere close to what the spanish name implies. First, because this recipe I’ve grown up with; my mom used to make it when I was small, and though I’ve tried many other recipes, this is still by far my favourite. Second (and last) because it’s a delicious traditional dish that is recognised by almost any spaniard and giving it another name would give it less authenticity (contradicting Shakespeare’s “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”). Does any of this make sense to anyone other than myself? I must still be high on the patriotic feeling after Spain won the World Cup Final!!! ;)
Anyway, this is a fairly filling dish, and this recipe may be more so, as where I could cut back on the cream by substituting it for milk in the bechamel (though I prefer the creamy feeling) and making a “Vizcaina” or other tomato sauce instead of further using cream for the sauce (but again, I prefer the velvety texture of the original sauce). The only change I’ve made is to skip the covering the filled peppers in flour and egg & frying them and I’ve confit them prior to filling instead. But if you still want to make a lighter version, feel free to make those substitutions…The dish is still a perfect marriage: piquillo peppers & salted-cod are a perfect match!(in my opinion, that is).
So, I hope you can get hold of some extra quality peppers to try this dish and let me know what you think of it! That is important, though, as 1st grade qualities may come with broken peppers, not ideal to be filled! I leave you with the recipe…¡Qué aproveche!
Pimientos del piquillo rellenos de bacalao
(enough for 4 dishes)
For the confit peppers:
450g (net weight) can or jar of extra-quality piquillo peppers (separate 18-20 unripped ones)
extra olive oil for slow-frying the peppers
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
For the filling:
2 medium-sized onions
~240g of desalted bacalao
30g olive oil (or butter)
~30g plain flour
~250g single cream or milk (you may need a bit more)
For the sauce:
1 large onion
some olive oil for sautéing
~6 or 7 piquillo peppers (use the broken ones)
~200g cream (you may need more to thin up the sauce)
optional: 1 tsp of dried choricero pepper pulp (or tomato concentrate for colour)
salt & freshly milled black pepper
Parsley or chives for decoration
Start by preparing the confit peppers as you want these to cool down before filling them, simply because it makes the task easier! So, select the best looking ones to be filled and reserve the others to make the sauce.
Deseed them well and place in a pan side by side and lightly cover at least half-way through with olive oil (the extra oil can be used to make both the sauce and the filling). Add the lightly mashed whole garlic cloves to infuse some flavour and place on minimum heat to confit slowly for at least 15 minutes. It’s best to turn them one throughout that time.
Make sure they don’t begin to colour, if so lower even more the heat. When they feel really soft when pierced, turn off the heat and remove them onto a dish…They’ll be butter-soft with a mild garlicky taste!
Leave them to cool while you prepare the filling (you could start making the filling while you are slow-frying them if you are in a rush…but I usually prefer to wait, simply to reuse the flavoured oil!ah, also, don’t throw away the used cloves of garlic, as you can use them to also flavour the sauce).
For the bacalao, I usually get a few salted fillets, wash them up well and desalt them by covering about 3 times their weight with cool water and keeping in the fridge. I change the water as often as possible to speed up the process of osmosis. But at least 2 or 3 times a day. Depending on the size of the fillets, they may take 1 or more often 2 days. The first changes of water rehydrate the cod, the following ones desalt them. To try if it is ready, make sure you take a piece from the heart, that is from the inside part of the fillet or else you may think it’s ready and when you use it you will be disappointed as it ruins the dish from over saltiness!!! Once they are ready, I dry them well and those I won’t be using within 2 days, I wrap in kitchen paper, then cling film or a bag and freeze. That way, whenever you need cod it’s be ready to use!
Then, just shred it into small pieces…
Otherwise, if you just got the salted cod, shred it up and place it in a bowl over slowly running water, so it stays in the bottom of the bowl as the water is constantly changing to remove the salt. In less than 15 minutes, it will be ready! In fact, watch it, so it doesn’t over desalt, or it will loose flavour.
For the bechamel, cut up 2 onions into fine brunoise and sautée them slowly in about 30g of the olive oil left from the confit peppers until they are really soft and starting to colour, which means they bring out all their sweetness. Then, add the flour and after it cooks a little so the bechamel doesn’t taste raw add the cold cream (or milk if you prefer) slowly while stirring with a wire whip. Add more cream if needed, you should get a thick consistency that separates from the sides and bottom of the pan, but still creamy. Once it is smooth, you can shift to a spatula to stir as it is easier.
Add the shredded bacalao, which as it looses some moisture onto the bechamel, it will again feel softer. Continue stirring until it gains consistency again.If it’s way too thick, add more liquid. Think that if you let it cool down before filling the peppers, it will thicken up, and when rewarmed, it will be creamier. Let cool down with some cling film covering the bechamel directly as if it were a second skin, that way it wont dry on the surface and make a crust.
You could fill the peppers easily with a small spoon, but if available, I prefer to fill up a piping bag, as it makes filling much easier!
As it cools, you can prepare the simple sauce. Just cut up the onions in fine brunoise or julienne and also with some of the oil to cover the surface of the pan (you can reuse the pan you used to make the confit peppers…always think on avoiding the cleaning up!;) ) and slow-fry them. Ah, and also add the reserved garlic cloves to flavour the sauce as well! When very soft and beginning to colour, add the finely diced piquillo peppers and cook a little bit until soft as well.
If using some tomato paste or pimiento choricero pulp paste, add it before pouring the cream, so it cooks off a bit (specially the choricero pepper paste as it has a stronger flavour).
Then, add cream. To be honest I didn’t measure it, I added to cover and cooked off a little. Then, when I blend it, I adjust as needed. I always prefer to stay short and have to add more or even finish it off with water to get the texture I like, than to add to much and get a thin, faint-coloured sauce. When, it cooks a few minutes, just enough to thicken a little and get the flavours, remove the whole garlic cloves, adjust seasonings and blend it!
As I said, add more cream or milk or even water to get the right consistency: smooth, shiny, velvety, but just thick enough to cover the back of the spoon lightly!
Now, time to fill up our peppers. Fill at least 3/4 full (I’m overly generous!) so the filling doesn’t run off as they are placed flat on a dish, but still be generous…they are filled peppers! Not with a tad of bacalao, but they should be plump and full of the filling!
Place in a tray or place 4 or 5 in the traditional clay individual dishes over a spoonful of sauce.
Then, just cover each pepper with some sauce(I tell women to think of it as if they were painting their nails! so it is smoothly covered). You can keep them ready in the fridge until ready to serve! Then, just pop in a preheated oven (about 160-180ºC) until warmed through! You don’t need to cook the peppers, as they’ve already been confit!
When ready, you can leave them on the clay dishes or serve them on a dish lifting up each pepper and in both cases sprinkling with some chopped up parsley or chives!
Hope you enjoy them!