Salt Cod Stew with Chickpeas, Kale, and Piquillo Peppers
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Salt cod is one of those ingredients that people either love or hate. I can’t say that this dish will change the mind of any salt cod–haters since it is unapologetically salt-cod-forward, but I love it—for its pungent garlicky kick, the plump body that some toasted breadcrumbs lend it, and for the alchemical combination of the tender flakes of translucent salt cod with the earthy, just-cooked chickpeas, and the bitter-sweet piquillo peppers. I don’t know why the green from the kale in this dish feels so essential to me, but it’s eminently satisfying to have that little bit of verdure lounging in this hearty stew as well.
Though this recipe does involve a lot of steps, there are ways to make it much easier if you find yourself short of time. You can easily use canned chickpeas instead of cooking your own, and if you’d rather use fresh cod, or just don’t have the time to soak salt cod for a day, you can absolutely do that—though in that case don’t add the fish until the very end, along with the piquillo peppers. And if the thought of finely chopping all that kale seems too much to you, you can use frozen chopped spinach, though be aware that you then won’t have to add as much water since the spinach will contribute a fair amount.
There’s something about this shoulder season that really requires a dish like this—hearty but bright; a nod to the winter that’s hopefully almost past, and a welcoming hand out to the spring that, with any luck, is just around the corner.
SALT COD STEW WITH CHICKPEAS, KALE, AND PIQUILLO PEPPERS
1 cup cubed crusty bread
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
4 cups cooked chickpeas or two 14-oz cans
4 cups finely chopped kale
½ lb salt cod, soaked in cold water for at least 24 hours, with the water changed every 6 hours, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup chopped roasted piquillo peppers or other sweet red pepper packed in brine
Salt and black pepper to season
Grind the bread cubes with the garlic in a food processor till reduced to fine crumbs. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and pulse to distribute the oil through the crumbs. Set aside.
Heat a large saucepan of unsalted water till it comes to a brisk simmer. Add the cubes of soaked salt cod and allow to cook in the gently simmering water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or clay pot, heat a quarter cup of olive oil over medium heat till it just begins to shimmer. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring and breaking up the paste till it turns a darker shade of brown and begins to smell sweet and nutty.
Add the garlic-breadcrumb mixture and cook, stirring to incorporate with the tomato paste for five minutes, taking care not to let the breadcrumbs brown too much—they should just turn a rich golden brown.
Add the paprika and stir through, cooking just long enough to let its aroma bloom.
Add the chickpeas and chopped kale and stir to combine. Add enough water to cover the chickpeas by about an inch. Then add the cubes of salt cod, tucking them in between the chickpeas. Season liberally with black pepper but forego adding salt until the end since the fish will still have some salt in it.
Cook, covered, on lowest heat on the stovetop for half an hour, or covered and placed in a 300F oven for an hour.
When ready to serve, add in the chopped piquillo peppers and stir through. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot with an extra drizzle of fine olive oil.