Salt cod stuffed piquillo peppers are comfort food in tapas form – the potato and salt cod filling is smooth and packed with flavor. They make a great appetizer or serve as part of a tapas meal.
Salt cod is a strange old ingredient. Or maybe I should say often overlooked. It’s one of those things that unless you were brought up eating it, you could easily find it a bit weird when you first try it. It takes a bit of preparation, can go a bit rubbery if you’re not careful and the taste is quite strong. It’s quite different from fresh cod, as in my cod tacos.
So why, you might think, would anyone cook with it? Well it does work well in a number of dishes and particularly mixed with mashed potatoes, it gives a lovely flavor to otherwise relatively plain ingredients. And for those more familiar with it, it tends to mean comfort food.
Take these salt cod stuffed piquillo peppers, for example – they are a delicious combination of soft, creamy but flavorful salt cod and potato filling inside slightly piquant roasted piquillo peppers. It’s kind of Spanish comfort food in tapas-sized portions. (New to tapas? Learn more in what are tapas). In days gone by, these would have been a pretty economical dish although salt cod is no longer a cheap option as it was, unfortunately. You can find piquillo peppers in jars, ready roasted, alongside olives in the supermarket or online (affiliate link above) – just drain before using.
What is salt cod?
Salt cod (bacalao/bacalhau and various other names) is cod that has been dried and preserved in salt, probably one of the oldest ways of preserving fish around. It’s particularly popular in Portugal but you’ll find it in many countries particularly in that region. You can buy it in blocks, either whole fillets you can get slices from or small offcuts. It’s very obviously salted, as you can see, and doesn’t need refrigerated when you buy it. To use it, you will always soak it for a good few hours, if not a couple days, with a few changes of water to get most of the salt off. You can see the difference in the texture on the right, above.
How to make these stuffed peppers
After you’ve soaked the fish, you poach it to gently cook it and make it easy to flake. Meanwhile cook and mash potatoes. Mix the two together along with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper then stuff the peppers. Bake until gently warm and just starting to brown. Some versions poach in milk, others in water. There’s probably not much in it but I went for milk as it’s just that bit more comforting to me.
I remember having salt cod stuffed piquillo peppers when I lived in Spain and they were always a favorite tapas dish. They weren’t found as widely as some dishes, since they do take a little more preparation, I suspect, but they are still not difficult to make yourself. And definitely worth it. Simple ingredients, lots of flavor – it’s what comfort foods should be.
A comforting, flavorful mix makes for some tasty tapas!
- 4 oz salt cod 115g
- 8 oz potatoes 230g
- 1 cup milk 240ml
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp olive oil plus a little more to drizzle on top
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 6 piquillo peppers or 8, depending on size (jarred - drain before use)
Place the salt cod in a container with water, refrigerate and leave to soak for at least 24 hours (48 better), changing the water 3 times a day.
Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
Roughly chop the potatoes and put in a pan with enough water to cover plus a bit more. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to gentle boil. Boil until tender (5-10 minutes depending on size of pieces and type of potatoes), then drain, peel and mash the potatoes (You can peel before cooking but I find they come off pretty easily after).
Put the milk in a small pan with the bay leaf. Warm through without boiling. Remove the salt cod from the soaking water and add to the milk. Cook for around 5 minutes until the fish is tender and will flake easily.
Remove the fish from the milk and remove any skin/sinew and bones. Flake the fish into small pieces (do while still warm to work best). Then add to the mashed potatoes along with the garlic, olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Mix all together well. Add a little of the poaching milk if it's a bit too firm.
Using a small-medium spoon or just your fingers, carefully fill the peppers and put in a roasting dish. Drizzle over a little more oil.
Bake for approx 10 minutes until warmed through and the filling is just starting to brown.
Note - nutritional data skewed as does not account for amount of salt removed through soaking which is difficult to calculate.
If you need piquillo peppers you can try these: Delallo Grilled Piquillo Pepper or these Spanish ones: Matiz Navarro Organic Piquillo Peppers. You can also buy salt cod via Amazon (I can't vouch for the quality of this since I get at my local fishmonger, but it appears to have good reviews): Bacalao Salted Cod, without Bone.
See all the other preserved fish ideas being shared for today’s Fish Friday Foodies:
Try these other tapas dishes to complete your meal:
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