Restaurants most often supply catfish from registered fishermen because in that way, they always get fresh catch, of the highest quality. Catfish is prevalent in the rivers of the Danube basin: The Danube, the Drava and the Sava, and given that they live in great depths, they tend to stray into small rivers, but they are rarely caught there. During the winter, they sit at the bottom of water, so this is the best part of the year for their fishing.
Compared to other river fish, catfish has very few bones therefore it is simple for filleting. Furthermore, it is very fat so during preparation there is no need of being watchful of whether its meat will be dry, and given that it does not have scales, it is easy to clean. As fresh catfish is true delicatessen, additions such as strong flavours or spices are most often avoided during preparation. Catfish fillets can be prepared in perkelt (Pörkölt), then with mushroom sauce, they can be fried, breaded, baked in oven, and most famous specialties are soups, fish porridges and perkelts of catfish.
Catfish delights are cooked in restaurants in mainland Croatia, most often in east Croatia. We started this river journey in Baranja, which is far renown for fish specialties. The Kopački Rit Natural Park surrounded with the Drava and Danube rivers houses the Kormoran Restaurant, one of the leading culinary representatives of Baranja, which has specialised in the preparation of river fish and game. The way of preparation of top quality catfish perkelt and greaves was disclosed to us by Ivan Skoko, the restaurant owner.
"We prepare catfish perkelt, catfish in seeds, breaded catfish, and grilled catfish. Perkelt is certainly the specialty of the restaurant, being among three most ordered dishes. We prepare it from the Danube catfish. We buy catfish from registered fishers who are there in great numbers. As catfish is fish keen on entering mud, it has specific smell and taste. Among river fish, catfish is in the rank of fatty fish so that using its fatty parts, we prepare greaves, which are always welcomed with delight by our guests. Greaves are prepared in the way that we chop the fatty parts of the catfish in small cubes, roll them in maize flour and ground sweet paprika, and fry them in hot oil. We always serve them as a starter with tartar sauce we make in the restaurant."
While greaves are relished, slowly simmering perkelt is waited for.
"For perkelt , we most often use catfish weighting three to six kilograms. First, we fillet the catfish and then chop it in small cubes. After we have prepared the catfish, we slice red onion and fry it. We put homemade crushed tomatoes, water, salt, Vegeta, then a little fried bacon, ground sweet and hot peppers. When the vegetables are cooked, they are blended, and when the perkelt thickens before the end, we add the catfish cubes. The fish is cooked for another ten to fifteen minutes. We serve perkelt with homemade noodles stirred with fresh cow’s milk cheese and fried bacon."
The family-run Krčma kod Daneta where you will meet a home atmosphere and relish the best fish porridges has nested in a small settlement of Aljmaš. We learned the secret of their famous specialty from the owner of the restaurant Vesna Dumančić.
"To be prepared, catfish should be first caught – Vesna is laughing. Her husband is a fisherman, and he is in charge of catfish supply. Catfish can weight from five to fifty-five kilograms, and they are best when they are prepared fresh. Our offer has perkelt, fried catfish, and breaded catfish. We prepare fried catfish in the old-fashion way, as simple as it can be, without any additions so that the fish taste is felt. We only salt the fish before frying, roll it into soft flour and fry on hot oil. The fish is fried from ten to twelve minutes. Unlike fried catfish, breaded catfish is prepared on low fire to avoid that it is burnt outside remaining raw inside. With breaded catfish, we salt the fish again and roll it into flour, eggs and bread crumbs. The flour-rolled catfish is fried for about fifteen minutes."
The famous fish porridge is a feast you can only desire.
Fish porridge requires carp and catfish. First, we put sliced onion, tomato, salt, sweet and hot paprika, a teaspoon of vinegar, and fish is cooked all the time. Preparation of fish porridge takes about 45 minutes. We serve it with homemade pasta or bread.
Along with classical specialties made of catfish, the blessings of this fish have been used by some restaurants in creating new and interesting flavours. Adjacent to Mrežnica, the family-run Zeleni Kut Restaurant has amalgamated the Adriatic and continental flavours. Tanja Puškarić, the owner, told us some details about their idea.
We prepare catfish in the classical ways, grilled, in beer dough, and breaded in maize flour in the Viennese manner. However, our main specialty is catfish in sauce with prawn. We wanted to conceive a dish that would join blue and green Croatia so we just tried different combinations. When we came to this dish, it was simply that. First, we fillet catfish and roast it lightly on butter. Then, we take it out and leave aside and put the prawn in the hot grease, we pour Cognac and flambé it. The flames are extinguished with white wine, and it is most often Malvazija or Graševina. It is important that the wine is not sour. We add cooking cream over the prawn and some salt, white pepper, a little garlic in granules, and basil; in the end, we crush gorgonzola and add the prepared catfish fillets. We serve the catfish, prawn and gorgonzola sauce with saffron rice. The dish is very attractive in its yellow-and-white combination, and the union of light and sweetish flavours is what guests really like.
This freshwater fish is the culinary treasure of Croatia because eating freshwater fish that has grown in a natural habitat is a true rarity in the world. Fish is thus of better quality, and prepared fresh, it is the best gourmet representative of its region.