At Xixón, a Special Cod Fills the Piquillo Peppers

Fat cods are the best ones, Tomás Cuadrado says as he emerges from the walk-in refrigerator deep inside beloved Coral Way institution Xixón Spanish Restaurant (2101 Coral Way, Miami; 305-854-9350; xixonspanishrestaurant.com).

He holds up a snowy-white loin like a jeweler would a Rolex and then explains how the thick white lines of fat signify this is a pristine specimen.

You don't want just any fat, he explains. You want the right kind. And that comes from cod harvested in the waters off Iceland. "They're the best in the world," the 46-year-old Barcelona native proclaims. Cod can be found lurking in oceans around the globe, but thanks to frigid water, the ones from the North Atlantic offer a richer flavor. These cods' muscles develop in thick bands separated by hefty layers of fat.

Indeed, this is just what Cuadrado needs as he shreds the cod's flesh into a pan to begin cooking. It has been soaked in water for more than a dozen hours to draw out the salt. The fish's natural fat begins to render out as it sautés in olive oil and onion. As the meat begins to stick, he slowly pours in whole milk. After being whisked together with the fat, the mixture emulsifies into a luxurious brandade.

It's blended until smooth and loaded into a piping bag before it's chilled and squeezed into tangy roasted piquillo peppers. They swell up like brilliant-red Christmas lights. The plate is finished with a few drops of herb oil and a splash of red pepper sauce that threatens to burn but never lights. There's not much else needed when you start with a nice fat fish.

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