To prepare the salt cod, rinse it well and then immerse it in a container of cold water (cut into chunks, if necessary, to fit). Refrigerate, changing the soaking water 5 or 6 times, until softened and mild (24 to 48 hours, depending on how stiff and salty it was to begin with).
Drain the cod, place it in a large saucepan with the onion and the bay leaves, and cover with cold water. Bring just to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, and cover (taste the water at this stage and, if it seems excessively salty, then drain, cover again with fresh cold water, and bring to a boil). Simmer very gently until the fish is opaque and plumped, and falls apart into heavy flakes when prodded, about 20 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and remove the bones and skin, if necessary. Separate into large flakes and use right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days before continuing with the recipe.
Drain and press the cod with your fingers to extract as much water as possible. Shred the cod by hand into thin strips and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the pepper rings, onion, and tomato to the bowl and toss together gently. In another bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, garlic, pepper, and if desired, a little salt (the salt cod is usually still quite salty; taste it to determine if the vinaigrette needs any salt). Whisk the vinaigrette together until thoroughly blended. Using your hands, toss the salad with the vinaigrette until all the ingredients are coated. Transfer the salad to a platter and garnish the edges with olives and wedges of hardboiled egg. Scatter the oregano over the dish.
c.1997, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, all rights reserved