The Croats use a peka, a dome or bell-shaped terracotta, cast iron, or steel lid that is heated by burning wood beneath it. After it is heated, the food to be cooked is placed in a round tray underneath the peka. The peka is used primarily to cook fish or octopus. But potatoes and vegetables are always a welcome addition, often becoming the star of the dish (who else says that?). The potatoes tend to suck up the flavor of the meat or fish.
Peka is an ancient technique, often using an outdoor fireplace, specifically built for peka. It is a slow cooking method, allowing the flavors and aromas to blend perfectly. It is believed to be an adaptation of primitive techniques of baking ingredients in clay, for people who could not afford ovens.
Now, peka is a signature technique throughout Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia. Besides cooking meat based main dishes, peka can also be used to bake bread, pastries and cakes.
Typical dinner peka ingredients:
- 1-1.5 kg meat of your choice (we had chicken, veal and lamb)
- 200 ml olive oil
- 0.8-1kg potatoes, quartered lengthwise
- 2 zucchini, sliced like thick coins
- 1 onion, sliced into eighths
- 4-5 carrots, sliced into 2 cm. segments
- 10 mushrooms, with stems removed
- 1 dollop of shortening
- 100 ml white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- dried bay leaf to taste
- dried parsley to taste
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re planning to cook a peka dish, or if you want to try a peka dish in a restaurant, is the amount of time it takes to prepare. From start to finish, it takes about two hours to put this delicious meal on the table. So, if you want to try peka in a restaurant, ask them well in advance. Pick the restaurant carefully, ask locals for advice, and if you can, choose a ‘konoba’ (a traditional tavern) for the best experience.
So, I look forward to the peka dinner, as well as the many other Croatian delights.