Cocochas de bacalao (or kokotxas in Basque) are delicate, flavorful cod cheeks, typically cooked with olive oil, garlic and parsley. This jewel of Basque cooking is cooked over low heat, releasing its natural gelatin to create a rich, creamy sauce.
When we visit San Sebastian (Donostia), a beautiful Basque city famous for its cuisine, we never pass on the chance to order a cazuela of Cocochas de Bacalao al Pil-Pil. To prepare, the chef slowly swirls the cheeks in garlicky olive oil on low heat, releasing their flavor and converting the oil into a creamy golden sauce.
These cocochas were salted, then soaked in fresh water, then frozen, so they are ready to cook as soon as they are thawed. Normally, desalting the bacalao takes at least a day, with several changes of water. No need with these perfectly desalted cheeks.
For centuries, salted dried cod was a staple food throughout Spain, especially in the north where the fishing boats arrived with their catch. The flavor of salt cod became so much a part of Spanish cuisine that it is rare to find fresh cod that has never been salted.
The cod cheek is really the cut from under the jaw of the fish, and there is only one per fish.
Cocochas are delicate so they must be cooked over low heat and not overdone. Thaw in the refrigerator several hours to a day before preparing.