Thursday, March 1, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Croatia

Slowly, but surely, I am making my way around the world with the goal of making a main course from 80 different countries (with four bonus meals made based upon the cuisines of peoples who do not have their own state).  The selection of countries is somewhat random, somewhat by opportunity.  My 29th challenge falls in the latter category.  I knew I would be making a seafood dish and I had it in my mind to make a brodetto, which is an Italian fish soup (also known as Cacciucco in Tuscany or even Bouillabaise in France).  As I was searching for a recipe online, I came across one for Brodet.  And that became my 29th challenge ... to make that dish, which is a main course from the country of Croatia.

Very briefly, an independent Croatian kingdom emerged in the 10th century A.D. The independence eventually faded when the country came under a personal union with Hungary.  While Croatia remained a separate state, it was effectively controlled from Budapest, and, the front lines in the wars against the Ottoman Empire.  When the Ottomans were driven back, Croatia became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   After World War I ended, which saw the breakup of that empire, Croatia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  It was united with other states or regions, including Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Croatia had a brief period of "independence" during World War II, when it was allied with Nazi Germany, but the country found itself back in a broader multi-ethnic state -- namely, Yugoslavia -- after that war.  Croatia remained part of Yugoslavia until it was able to obtain its independence in 1991.  Since that time, it has been known as the Republic of Croatia.

This history, as briefly recounted above, provides some insight into the culture and cuisine of Croatia.  As one could expect, the centuries under Austro-Hungarian rule would show through with German and Hungarian influences in some of the cuisine.  This influence is particularly pronounced in the cuisine of two of three regions of Croatia.  These regions are Slavonia, which consists of the North and East of the country, as well as central Croatia, which includes the capital of Zagreb.  The food features ingredients such as black pepper, paprika and garlic, as well as dishes of smoked meats, breaded meats, goulash and stuffed cabbage grace the plates here.

And, then there is the third region.  It is the coastal region, stretching from the Istrian peninsula down all the way down the coast.  This region is known as Istria and Dalmatia.  The coastline lies on the opposite side of the Adriatic sea from Italy.  Thus, it seems only logical that the Croats would have their own version of a Brodetto.  From Porec to Dubrovnik, and everywhere in between (except for that small sliver of coastline that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina), there are ports and fishing villages where local fishermen could go out and return with a bounty that could end up in a fish stew.  Of course, the fishermen sell off all the good fish and keep the less desirable ones for the stew.  That fish stew would become my personal culinary challenge. 


This challenge represents an instance where I am making a dish that represents the cuisine of one country, even though I know that there are similar dishes in other countries.  Indeed, there are some similarities between a Croatian Brodet and an Italian Brodetto.  The similarities lie in the use of garlic onions and tomatoes in the base.  There are also differences.  A Brodet uses additional vegetables, such as leeks, and red wine vinegar which is not usually used in a Brodetto.  (The cook probably drinks the wine as he makes the Brodetto, as I often do when I make the dish). 

This Brodet is a little more luxurious than one would probably find being made by local fishermen at a Croatian fishing town.  I used monkfish, black grouper and halibut.  Each fish contributed to the dish, whether by texture (monkfish) or taste (grouper and halibut).  I also used some medium sized shrimp (about 21 to 26 count) and some mussels.  As for the wine, I could not locate any Croatian red wine, so I went with a wine from an Italian province across the water ... a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (which is a wine I have used to make an Abruzzese Brodetto).

The recipe I used is from Arousing Appetites, which also recommended serving polenta with the Brodet.  A polenta was made for this dish, although it is not in the picture.  

Recipe adapted from Arousing Appetites
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the brodet):
2/3 cup olive oil
1 heaping handful of fresh parsley (about 1 cup when chopped)
1 lemon juiced
15 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of monkfish (or similar denser, firmer, meatier fish)
1 pound of grouper (or similar flavorful, flaky fish)
1 pound of halibut
1/2 pound of raw, medium size shrimp (21-26 count)
1/2 pound of mussels, washed
2 onions, chopped
2 small leeks, the white and green stalk parts halved and thinly sliced
2-3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup of red wine
1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
3 stalks fresh rosemary, chopped
4 cups fish stock or water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients (for the polenta):
2 cups water
2 cups fish broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Marinate the fish.  In a food processor, combine the fresh parsley, 1/2 cup olive oil, 4 cloves of garlic and lemon juice together to create a thick and rich puree.  In a large bowl, rub the puree into the fish and shrimp and then let marinate for at least 1 hour.

2.  Begin making the polenta.  Add water, fish broth and salt in a sauce pot and bring it to a boil.  Add the polenta and whisk vigorously through the water.  Keep the pot on high heat as the water beings to re-boil.  Once the pot begins to boil again, turn the heat down to the lowest possible simmer setting.  Simmer the polenta for at least 45 minutes, whisking and [ the polenta around as frequently as every 2 to 3 minutes.  

3.  Begin to make the Brodet.  After about 15 minutes of cooking the polenta, bring a soup pot with the remaining oil over high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the onion and remaining minced garlic.  Saute for five minutes.  Add the leeks and saute for another 2 minutes.  As the leek and onion become gradually softer, add the tomatoes and tomato paste and mix vigorously.  Reduce the heat to medium high and cook for another 2 minutes.  Once everything is mixed well and the tomatoes have softened, add the red wine, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes.  

4.  Add the fish.  Layer the fish on top of the vegetables in the soup pot.  Once all the fish is in, add the fish stock, bay leaves and rosemary into the pot.  Keep the soup pot uncovered and cook on high heat for 15 minutes, but do not stir the pot.  If you need to jostle the ingredients around, pick up the soup pot by the handles and give it a bit of a shake.  Add more fish stock or water as needed to keep the fish submerged in case of evaporation.  

5.  Add the shellfish.  After about 15 minutes, place the shrimp and mussels on top of all other ingredients and submerge in the broth.  Cover the soup pot and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes to help cook the shellfish. After 5 minutes, remove the brodet from the heat and set aside for a moment.

6.  Finish the dish.  Take the polenta off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter.  As the butter melts and the polenta becomes creamy, finish by adding the cheese to the polenta and whisking it through until the cheese melts.  Serve the brodet with a side of polenta. 

*          *          *

Having made Cacciucco and Brodetto, I have to admit that I was not expecting to have a different culinary experience with the Brodet.  However, the Brodet did have its own flavor and taste.  The use of the wine and the vinegar definitely gave the broth a more acidic taste that a Brodetto.  Also, the marination of the fish in the parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice paste added another layer of flavors to the broth.

Overall, this was a very good dish.  The presentation was clearly lacking, but the taste made up for it.  With another challenge in the books, I can now look forward to the next one.  Given my last two challenges (this one and Italy) focused heavily on seafood, I might just tip the scales towards a challenge that involves something that walks on land, such as a cow, lamb or chicken.  Until next time ...


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