I don’t know in which category exactly to place esgarraet, salads or appetizers/tapas. Esgarraet is a dish typical of the Valencian community, and very often it is served as a tapa, on top of a slice of crusty bread, or grilled or toasted bread. It consists of roasted red peppers, salt cod, garlic and olive oil, and in some areas of Castellón, also eggplant, which is how I made mine. The salt cod, very popular in Spain, marries very well with the somewhat sweet red peppers. A very good quality extra virgin olive oil complete the dish.
In Catalunya, a similar dish is called escalivada, a name that comes from the way the vegetables are cooked, “al caliu”, which are the embers remaining from burning wood. There, onions are added to the dish, and sometimes also anchovies. The name esgarraet comes from the Valencian “esgarradet”, which means to pull, based on the fact that both cod and roasted pepper have to be pulled (“desgarrado”) with your fingers before being added to the dish. I pulled the cod, but sliced the roasted pepper and the eggplant in thin strips.
As I mentioned, esgarraet can be considered a salad, or a tapa, but the truth is, it’s very versatile. I serve it on slices of grilled bread, but also include it in bocadillos (sandwiches made with baguette bread) and also spread it as a topping on pizzas. In Valencia, it’s typical to cook the vegetables over embers —that’s probably why I remember eating it most often in the summer, when we cook outdoors more often. In fact, at my mom’s house, there’s always esgarraet available in the fridge for anybody to serve themselves. Which makes me now think of my next trip to Spain, in less than a month. The countdown has begun.
ROASTED RED PEPPER, EGGPLANT AND COD
3 red bell peppers
1 medium eggplant
6 garlic cloves
1 lb fresh cod (better, salt cod if you can find it)
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
If using salt cod, desalt it the night before: place in a water bath, discarding the salt water and replacing it with fresh water every couple of hours, 5 or 6 baths total.
(Note: if you have the option, grilling the peppers over embers, or even on a grill, will give them a desirable smoky flavor. I broiled mine in the oven).
Place the peppers on an oven tray covered with aluminum foil. Broil in the oven (I like to broil at a slightly low temperature of 450ºF, but if you want to speed up the process, broil at a higher temperature and adjust the times accordingly). Basically, you want to char the peppers until their skin is black. At 450ºF broiling temperature, I follow these times and process:
Broil for 12 minutes. Using tongs, turn the peppers 180º and broil the opposite side for another 12 minutes. Turn the peppers 90º and broil for 5-6 minutes. Turn the peppers one last time 180º to broil the remaining side, an extra 5-6 minutes (again, these times are approximate and depend on your oven, on the broiling temperature, and on the distance between the peppers and the heating element).
Remove the tray from the oven and let the peppers cool down. When cool enough to handle, with your fingers remove the charred skins (they will come off easily), reserving the juices. Slice the peppers into 1/3 inch-thick, 3 inch-long strips and place in a shallow serving plate.
Peel the eggplant and cut it lengthwise into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Brush lightly with olive oil and grill or broil —I grilled mine on a stove top grill, about 3 minutes per side on high temperature. Cut the slices transversally into strips, about 1/3 inch-thick and 3 inch-long. Place them in the plate with the peppers.
Peel and chop the garlic cloves finely.
Using your fingertips, pull small pieces of cod and add to the plate containing the vegetables. Add the chopped garlic and gently mix all the ingredients well. Drizzle generously with the olive oil and mix again with a fork. If you used fresh cod, you might want to sprinkle a pinch of salt, although it is not necessary. Let the esgarraet sit at room temperature so all the flavors blend.
Esgarraet is better eaten at room temperature over slices of crusty bread or grilled bread. It can be refrigerated and keeps well for a few days, but make sure to remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.