Croatia Online – Peka or Dalmatian Sunday Roast Dinner
When Dalmatian mothers discovered their city cousins using ovens, cooking “ispod peke” became the country version of baking meat, and the successor to boiling food or roasting it on the spit. The age of electricity came relatively late to rural Croatia, but still the popularity of this cooking method survives. In winter, traditionally, the wood fire would be prepared on a stone slab in the most multifunctional area of the house – the place to get warm over a chat – and above the fire would be an array of meats in the course of being smoked. Chickens and turkeys were early peka favourites but, with the advent of refrigeration and the first butchers, small cuts of lamb and veal were added to the repertoire. Cooking “ispod peke” is also credited as being the first appetising Dalmatian way of cooking octopus.
Polite but knowing smiles will greet you when you ask for the secret of a good peka – everyone has their own tips and special ingredients. Know thy peka also applies to the dome under which the meat is cooked. The fragile clay pekas were eventually replaced, in the early 20th century, with more robust iron ones, and no two produce quite the same result. The distinctive succulent meat, delicious potatoes and all round juicy flavours are unique to this type of cooking and every bit as special as our English Sunday Roast dinners.
Once the wood has turned into burning ashes on the hot stone slab, the iron bell is covered with the ashes and the contents start cooking at a temperature of around 230 degrees centigrade, “cooling” to about 170 degrees when cooked. There are endless discussions about whether to turn the meat and when. The practicalities are that, with so many factors having an input into the cooking temperature, you can never be sure exactly when it will be perfect. Having a peak inside the peka about 20 minutes before time gives the opportunity to reassess the situation and perhaps turn the meat at the same time.
Peka dishes are a feature in many restaurants throughout Croatia but generally only available if pre ordered, and for at least 4 people.
Thanks to Etnoland (see previous posting) for today’s photo and helping us out with some little known facts.
Peka and Peke? – an example of Croatian grammar. Ispod means under and is followed by a noun in the genitive case. Peka is feminine and the genitive ending of a feminine noun is e.
Pekas? - an English translation abomination; the “true” Croatian plural is peke!
As a PS to this blog, we’ve since noticed a very interesting article on Secret Dalmatia’s blog about the peka cooking utensil itself and the traditions of blacksmiths in Croatia – follow this link to find out more Secret Dalmatia - Blacksmith and Peka Traditions