Atascaburras or ajoarriero manchego (see pronunciation here) is a very simple tapa of mashed potatoes mixed with desalted cod and ocasionally garnished with hard-boiled egg or even walnuts. Though typical from La Mancha it is also popular in other regions, and especially found all over the province of Cuenca.
Salted cod has been a staple food in Spain for centuries, what has made it the star of many traditional dishes. The preservation technique of salting fish is an ancient method which is already mentioned by Herodotus as practised in Egypt. You can often find this ingredient in our blog, such as in bacalao rebozado, cod fritters.
The salting not only extracts a great part of the liquid in the fish, but it helps develop flavor as the salt partially breaks down the proteins into flavorful aminoacids. That’s why regular fresh cod shouldn’t be used for dishes that call for salted cod. The flavor simply won’t even get close.
Salted cod was almost the only fish that could reach every corner of the vast inland of Spain in an acceptable state of preservation before canning became common practice. It was very popular because it withstood the drying and salting better than other species. Before being used in cooking the fish must be desalted by soaking it in water at least 12 hours, depending on the size of the pieces.
- 2 pounds (1kg) potatoes
- 1 pound (500g) desalted cod
- 2 eggs
- 2 garlic cloves
- Virgin olive oil to taste
- Salt to taste
- The day before preparing this dish, desalt the cod. First wash it in running water to eliminate the outside salt. Put it in a container and cover in plenty of cold water. Leave it overnight in the fridge. Change the water at least once before cooking the cod to aid the desalting. Discard the water.
- Boil the eggs 10 minutes until set. Set aside.
- Boil or steam the potatoes, with skin on, until fork-tender. Skin them and set aside covered, to prevent them from drying out.
- Boil the cod in hot water 5 minutes. Take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the cooking liquid.
- Mash the garlic cloves in a mortar. Add the potatoes cut into chunks and mash them with the pestle while mixing them with the garlic, until you have a more or less homogeneous purée.
- Then add the shredded cod and mix.
- Add a good glug of virgin olive oil and mix again. Season with salt but don't overdo it, as the cod is already salty.
- Divide the mash among 4 cazuelas or small dishes. Garnish with the hard-boiled egg and serve immediately.
Tips for perfect atascaburras
- Find the best salted cod you can get hold of, because it can make a difference. Salted cod is not so easy to find in some countries, but some online gourmet shops carry already desalted cod, at least in the United States as far as we know.
- So don’t even try to make atascaburras with regular cod. The flavor has nothing to do with the salted stuff.
- Better use starchy potatoes in this one for the mash to get really thick.
- Potatoes can be either steamed or boiled. We personally favor steaming because the potato absorbs less liquid than if steamed. Then you can use the cooking liquid of the cod to thin the mash and that enhances the cod flavor of the whole thing.
- The amount of garlic is quite noticeable, but Spaniards are used to garlicky flavors. If you’re not a big fan of garlic simply halve the amount.
- Hard boiled eggs are the traditional garnish, but just imagine a poached egg on top of each serving, oozing its yolk… yum.
By the way, the name atascaburras means literally “female-donkey-clogger” in a very free translation… referring to the thickness of the mash, that should be able to clog any duct. And how do you like my mortar and pestle? It belonged to my great-grandmother who was born in Almería, that’s why it’s made of the famous Macael marble. A great gadget to serve atascaburras.