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Salt cod pil pil

Ed Smith

A take on a traditional Spanish dish for Good Friday

Recipe Meta


10 mins (plus 1-2 days desalination)


30 mins






  • 300g salt cod fillet, desalinated
  • 140ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small chilli pepper, finely sliced, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • Fresh bread, potatoes and salads, to serve


Desalinate the cod 1-2 days in advance of cooking: wash off any residual salt from the fish under gently running cold water, transfer the fish to a container in which it fits snuggly, then submerge under cold water, skin-side up, for 24-36 hours, changing the water every 8 hours or so. Remove, drain, pat dry and refrigerate until needed.

To cook, cut the fillet into 2-3 pieces that fit fairly snuggly in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan (this is so you don’t require gallons of oil to cook them).

Before the fish goes in, heat the oil to around 120C. Slice thinly one of the garlic cloves and fry until golden, remove and set to one side. If you have fresh chilli slices, fry those too for 30-60 seconds, removing before they burn.

Remove the oil pan from the heat for 5 mins so it cools down a little, then return to a low flame. Check with a breadcrumb that the oil isn’t viciously hot (it should be 60-70C, if you have a thermometer), then move the fish pieces to the pan, skin-side down, so the oil sits between halfway and two-thirds of the way up the height of the fillets. Flatten the remaining garlic cloves and add these to the saucepan.

Cook gently for 25-30 mins, never letting the cod fry, swirling the pan frequently so that the hot oil laps over the top of the cod. The fish is cooked when it feels like it will flake apart if prodded.

Carefully transfer the cooked fish to a warm serving dish. Peel the skin from the flesh and return the skin back to the oil. Shuffle the pan vigorously for 2 mins, then strain the oil into a bowl through a metal sieve. Whisk with a balloon whisk to ensure the oil becomes thick and glossy, then pour over the fish and sprinkle with garlic and chilli.

Serve with bread or new potatoes, a green salad and some roasted red peppers.

Images: Joe Woodhouse

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