A royal treat of the rivers – zander

Even though they’re not as popular as sea fish, freshwater fish is nevertheless a part of culinary identity of both continental Croatia and some coastal regions. The riches of rivers, lakes and the fish farming tradition are some of the reasons to preserve centuries-old recipes. When it comes to freshwater fish, zander proudly holds the royal title and it’s often likened to sea bass due to its delicious meat. While some find it to be juicy and others think it’s dry, they agree on one thing. And that is that zander meat is the most distinguished river delicacy.

Image author: Thinkstock

Zander is a predatory fish feeding on small fish. It has strong and very sharp teeth and its scales and fins are just as sharp. Most often it inhabits still waters with a gravel bed. Its white meat can be used to prepare roasts and casseroles. When it comes to appetizers, there are excellent zander terrines or pâtés prepared using leftovers. Given that zander doesn’t possess as intense a flavour as other freshwater fish, only the sky is the limit when it comes to the number of recipes. It’s often prepared with bacon or mushroom sauce, you can also marinate it with horseradish. When prepared in cream and white wine, it’s just to die for.

We headed to eastern Croatia to look for the best zander delicacy. The Danube and Drava rivers are abundant with fish and licensed fishermen are proudest when a zander gets entangled in their nets. This phenomenal freshwater fish is true delicacy that guarantees a feast. The people of Baranja, Syrmia and Slavonia are widely known for superb perkelt and fish stews, but zander takes up a special place in their culinary tradition. Due to the quality of its meat, it’s most often baked, grilled or fried. Our hosts decided to show us their love of freshwater fish.

At the family-run Krčma kod Daneta in the small village of Aljmaš located just a stone’s throw away from the Danube, recipes and fish menus have been passed on from generation to generation. Drago Dumančič is the head of the family and a fisherman in his own right. All of the fish dishes listed in their menu have been caught in the Danube which flows just about ten metres from the tavern. Drago uses nets to catch zander and the largest he’s ever caught so far weighed between seven and eight kilogrammes. Unlike catfish, zander doesn’t inhabit deeper water so it’s much easier to catch. But it’s not easy to clean though.

  • I always put on a steel glove so as to avoid lacerations. Zander is completely covered in scales, which are just as sharp as its teeth and front and lateral fins. A zander sting is very painful so need to clean it carefully – Drago points out.

Zander preparation at Krčma kod Daneta is pretty straightforward. They fry fillet halves without superfluous spices so as to truly enjoy the meat’s aromas.

  • Zander meat is white, there aren’t that many bones, its flavour is unique and it’s the best freshwater fish. Whether fried or grilled, we serve it with potato or cabbage salad. In order to fry zander in breadcrumbs, it’s vital that it be deboned first. Then you douse it in salt, roll it in wheat flour, eggs and breadcrumbs and slowly fry it in oil so as not to burn the breadcrumbs. When frying zander in breadcrumbs, the fish takes more time to be prepared over a slow flame in order for the meat to be well done. When frying the zander, we put the fillets only in plain flour and hot oil. The fish is turned only when it turns reddish on the other side. It’s ill-advised to frequently turn the fish when frying it. Fried zander is done in no time - they say at the restaurant.

Image author: Thinkstock

Beer dough is also used to prepare zander and chef Jasna Jerenić revealed to us how the go about preparing it at restaurant Kormoran. In addition to enjoying the Danube and Drava fish, you’ll be mesmerised by the wilderness of the Nature Park Kopački rit where restaurant Komoran is located.

  • First we separate the egg white from the yolk and then beat the eggs whites. We whisk the yolks and add light later beer, four, salt, pepper and mix it all together after which we add the egg whites. Zander fillet is sliced, rolled into the mixture and the slices are fried until they turn golden-yellow. When they’re done, first we place then on a napkin so as to soak up excess oil. Fried zander prepared in this fashion is served with fried potatoes and Tartar sauce – chef Jasna says.

In addition to numerous fish specialties and classic aromas of Slavonia and Baranja, restaurant Kod ruže, which is located in the Tvrđa in the old town of Osijek, offers an intriguing zander and almond delicacy. Shift manager, chef Jasna Maretić, brought completely new flavours to our attention.

  • We clean the fresh zander, cut in into fillets, add some salt and then grill it. Grilled zander is prepared by preparing the side containing the skin first, whereas the other side needn’t be grilled. Then we put some almond slices in the pan and fry them until they turn golden-yellow. Then we add some cream and let it all simmer. Before it stars thickening, we add some white wine. We use Welschriesling. When the wine reduces and the sauce thickens, we pour it over the zander fillets and sprinkle it with almond slices. We serve steamed vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, baby carrots and Brussels sprouts as a side dish with zander with almonds. Once the vegetables are done, we pour butter over its and sprinkle the vegetables with chopped parsley – the chef tells us.