Emulsions, "pil pil" and olive oil

Emulsions, "pil pil" and extra virgin olive oil

What is emulsion and how is it produced?

Nowadays we hear the term emulsion a lot in cooking, for example in the expression "potato emulsion". Sounds delicious and sophisticated, doesn't it? But is it really an emulsion? Not really. Potato emulsion is a mashed potato, somewhat creamier than usual due to its water content. Mashed potato, as we know it, is characterised by an appearance reminiscent of egg whites whipped into snow. But the truth is that in this new variant, the emulsified one, the watery and oily part does not need to emulsify as such, but rather it is the potato that acts as a thickener and thanks to it all the ingredients are perfectly integrated without the possibility of "curdle".

Emulsion is a chemical process in which two immiscible liquids, i.e. liquids that by their nature tend to separate, are mixed. The best known emulsions are water and oil emulsions, but egg and oil emulsions (e.g. mayonnaise) or animal fat and oil emulsions (e.g. pil pil sauce) are also very popular. This process is somewhat special, as it is not easy to integrate these two elements well. In the case of mayonnaise, for example, it is normal for it to "cut". This occurs when the egg white cannot withstand so much oil, so the emulsion is destabilised. The result is a thick liquid, far from the texture of mayonnaise.

There are other types of delicious emulsions, such as pil pil, a spectacular sauce that accompanies cod and whose curiosities we will tell you about below:

What is pil pil?

The pil pil emulsion is the mixture of the cod jelly (called gupilada) with the olive oil. The cod begins to release a kind of bubbles when it is in contact with the oil and gradually emulsifies into a creamy, clear sauce.

There are different versions of its history, all of them somewhere between myth and reality. One of them is about Simón de Gurtubay, an expert in cod imports from the Nordic countries in the 19th century. His suppliers mistook the number of cod that Gurtubay had ordered and delivered a disproportionate amount. This coincided with the siege of Bilbao, so the cod could not be unloaded and would spoil. He tried to preserve it by cooking it with oil and garlic (to mitigate the sensation of not fresh fish) and obtained a marvellous emulsion.

Other theories read on the internet suggest that the kitchen of a Basque restaurant ran out of enough charcoal to keep the cooker going and the cod was cooked at a medium temperature. To try to ensure that the heat reached the entire surface evenly, they began to move it nimbly with gentle turns and the oil ended up turning into a whitish cream with a spectacular flavour. 

Another interesting fact: did you know that pil pil is an onomatopoeia of the sound the sauce makes when it boils? The traditional chup chup, but with a name of its own for this exquisite cod and olive oil jelly sauce.

Another interesting fact: did you know that pil pil is an onomatopoeia of the sound the sauce makes when it boils? The traditional chup chup, but with a name of its own for this exquisite cod and olive oil jelly sauce.

Can pil pil only be made with cod? Well, the truth is yes. Pil pil pil prawns are actually garlic prawns. That is to say, the ingredients of the sauce are the same but there is no emulsion since the cod gelatine is only present in the cod, not in the prawns. We could think of other fish with their own fats, such as salmon, but they are not suitable for emulsifying either, due to their lack of water.

What are the secrets of a good pil pil?

The movement that is made to the pot is fundamental. This in terms of technique. Some people prefer to use a small strainer to facilitate the integration of elements. However, just as in pizza the secret is in the dough, the secret of a good pil pil is in its extra virgin olive oil. It is true that the freshness of the cod is important, but not crucial, as the gelatin is still intact in the thawed version of the fish. However, the quality of the extra virgin olive oil, together with the cayenne, garlic and, in some versions, piquillo peppers, give the perfect touch to this sauce. Although we recommend using the oil raw so that the unique properties of this aromatic and special product are not lost, the truth is that the key to a perfect sauce is this 100% natural olive juice. The arbequina variety, for example, is fantastic for mayonnaise, as we show you on our website. However, the hojiblanca variety, due to its fresh aromas, citric touches, low bitterness and its spicy touch, would be our recommendation for any fish recipe. Perhaps what we are going to tell you now seems like an excess of oil, but an incomparable touch for the plating would be a circular drizzle of our iOliva around the cod fillets.

If you found this article interesting and want to continue researching recipes such as pil pil cod, we recommend you to read about the Marquesa de Parabere, a true pioneer in the recording and research of Basque gastronomy. Her books are wonderful.

Writing this post has been quite a challenge, as our mouths are watering at the thought of a good dish of cod pil pil made with our extra virgin olive oil, so stay tuned, as we will soon be showing you our own version of the dish, on our Instagram @aceiteslamuralla.

Share if you liked it and comment so we can talk about it!

We accept recommendations for future posts, as well as the topics that interest you most about extra virgin olive oil, the greatest treasure of our land.


Bilbao Eus

Cocina casera y fácil

El independiente.com



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