A unique blend of meat and vegetables coated with olive oil, a dash of herbs, baked to perfection using a bell-like dome, is the peka which is one of the most popular meals in the Dalmatia region of Croatia. A typical dish in most of the restaurants in Croatia and a staple in homes at dinnertime, the peka is cooked at fireplaces by the Dalmatians. This food-dish has a unique place in the Croatian’s heart which is visible by the fact that many of them have built special ovens outside their houses for the sole purpose of baking peka.
The octopus, lamb or veal roasted under the dome-shaped bell, mainly if the meat is fresh, can make even an angry Croatian jump up and grab some. There is nothing more appealing to people in this area than being offered an opportunity to feast on food baked under the bell.
Baking Under the Bell
The food that is cooked under the bell is only half-baked, but it soaks in its own juices. The dome-shaped bell is called by different names like the lid, honeycomb or just ‘the bell’ depending on the part of Croatia you are visiting. Regardless of the name, this type of cooking brings out the hidden foodie in you. Potatoes with lamb prepared using this method is a favourite in springtime, especially when families get together and bake this specialty on special occasions.
The Scrumptious Peka
The best plate of peka is obtained only when the best quality wood is used, as the type of wood can retain the best temperature for baking. The temperature can be taken care of only if the fire is made on a large, flat panel made of fireclay. The fire has to be started well in advance to achieve the perfect temperature on which the peka can be laid. A fat coated baking dish is placed on the grill after which the meat is added to the middle. Around the meat are the vegetables along with wine, if preferred. The whole layout is covered using the bell which allows the grill to cook the food from inside.
Baking Time Decides the Tenderness of Meat
Giving the peka time to bake is essential and dictates the quality and flavour. The time required to cook the peka depends on the size of the meat pieces. It is ideal for slow cooking so that the meat cooks in their own juices. Alternatively, cooking on a grill for 2 to 3 hours will give you a fantastic outcome. Make sure you use premium meat and keep flipping the meat at equal intervals to allow even baking.
Preparing the Meat to Enjoy the Peka in All its Glory
Marinate the meat overnight after cutting it into pieces and rubbing with salt. Throw in some oil, herbs, and spices of your choice and ensure you add a dash of pepper along with garlic cloves, and red pepper. Place the vegetables around the meat on the pan and then place on a grill covered with the lid. Keep checking every half hour, if not the meat may be burnt on the outside and stay raw on the inside. Ensure you roast it well, in the end, giving it that authentic Croatian touch.