Traditionally associated with mule drovers on the trade route between Bilbao in the Basque Country, Pamplona in Navarre and Zaragoza in Aragón, this was a simple dish that evolved with local ingredients – salt-dried cod, crab, garlic, green and red peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Nowadays ajoarriero is a rich sauce made with variations of indigenous chilli, the choricero, lamuyo, palermo and piquillo peppers, and garlic and tomatoes. Ironically the traditional salt-cod is losing favour to air-dried cod from Norway, because it is less expensive and salt-free. The original ajoarriero was suffused with pungent local garlic that gave the dish its name but the plentiful green and red peppers were of equal importance. Cooked in a clay pot over an oven fire, ajoarriero was a communal affair, the amount of garlic depended on the number of diners. Each plate contained a scrambled mess of cod, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and beaten egg. Crab was a favourite ingredient in some areas. In other areas potatoes were added. Nothing remotely like a sauce. The introduction of lobster and shrimp to replace crab was a 20th century invention. Ajoarriero remains a dish of the Basque Country and Navarre, where it is continually being reinterpreted by local chefs.
- 1 kg dried / salt cod, soaked 24 hours with three water changes
- 750 g tomatoes, chopped
- 350 g piquillo peppers
- 2 green peppers, chopped
- 6 choricero peppers, soaked, roasted, peeled, chopped
- 125 ml olive oil
- 125 g onions, chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, chopped
- 5 g sugar
- Parsley, large pinch
Remove skin from cod, chop into small pieces. In a saucepan sauté four cloves of garlic and piquillo peppers in oil over a low heat for ten minutes. In a deep frying pan, sauté remaining garlic, onion and green peppers, add tomatoes, cook for 15 minutes, add cod skin pieces, cook for ten minutes over a medium heat. Stir cod and choricero peppers into the tomato mixture, season with parsley, salt (if using air-dried cod) and pepper. Simmer for a further ten minutes over a very low heat.