Peka

A peka is a traditional Dalmatian meal cooked under a dome shaped lid and covered over with hot coals. It’s usually saved for special occasions when you’re cooking something out of the ordinary like a large octopus, turkey, or duck, and also because there’s a decent amount of playing with fire involved in the prep.

So…basically not your average midweek meal.

🙂

In sharing this it’s not with the expectation that anyone will go out and make it if it’s not already something they’re familiar with, but rather to preserve and chronicle a meal that has over the years represented so many kinds of family gatherings, from a feast day to an ordinary Sunday lunch taken to the next level. My father in law is the peka master in our family, and even though the most recent peka was handled mostly by my brother in law, it’s always a group effort, with everyone peering over shoulders and putting their two cents in. It’s also a very old school experience, with the men obsessing over the fire and manning the coals while the women prepare salads and set the table.

And while the protein is supposed to be the main star and we all know by now that Croatians are basically just there for the meat {while the Dalmo’s are just there for the seafood}, I know I’m not the only one who’s way more interested in those potatoes. Especially when you cook a duck under the peka, I promise you that those potatoes are the most insanely delicious ones you will ever eat.

In saying all that, obviously this recipe isn’t one where I can conveniently list quantities or steps to follow. And keeping in mind that I usually have a glass of wine on hand while being on potato-peeling or salad-making duty, as best as I can tell what you do goes something like this:

  • You take the protein and the vegies you want to cook and basically it needs to fill up the round baking dish that will go under the peka.
  • You can use any large cut or joint of red meat, a whole turkey or duck, or a large octopus. It GENERALLY needs to cook about halfway before you add any vegies {but please, use your own cooking skill and common sense on this}.
  • Add any root veg you like {potatoes can be either whole if small or new, or halved if they’re large}, and you can also add some tomatoes or capsicums when the meat is about halfway done and has been turned over. Or add tomatoes right from the beginning to make a bit of a sauce, which is what was done in the photos here.
  • Season everything well with salt and pepper. Add fresh herbs if you like, but they will need to be the robust kind, rosemary is best with meats, or some chopped fresh parsley added at the end if cooking seafood. Be generous with the olive oil, extra virgin only. And remember: lots of it please.
  • Heat some coals and if you like it and happen to have any, some loza {branches from grape vines} for added flavour, over a cooking stone or brick based surface. You can use pavers if you don’t care about them being black later, or if you have a pizza or woodfired oven that has a large enough opening that works well too.
  • When the coals are ready {see next point on that below}, move them aside to make space for the baking dish to go on the hot bricks or pavers, cover with the peka {the dome shaped lid}, and shovel some hot coals over the peka, to cook from both above and below.
  • Now: don’t ask me anything about preparing the coals. Sorry, but I think that the coals need to die down a little, maybe starting to look a little ashy and grey rather than all fully red hot? {Yes? No? Maybe?} Refer to photos above I guess.
  • When the meat is cooked through to the bone, because we also all know by now that Croatians cannot handle anything other than well done, then it’s ready to eat. Simple.
  • Serve with salads, wine, and lots of good crusty bread for the amazing pan juices.

And one final tip: if you can, try to have a peka while in Croatia, because as we all know by now, everything tastes better there.

😉

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