The winter months were traditionally reserved for fish and fish specialties, and holiday tables always required something special, something to be remembered. Codfish, the fish of the North seas, thus swam into the Croatian kitchens through maritime routes.
Codfish lives in cold seas of the North, has white meat, and by its looks, it rather distinguishes itself compared to other fish most frequently due to its elongated body and gray brownish skin colour. As codfish was preserved by drying and smoking as early as in the Middle Ages, it was simple for transport so it was not a problem for it to conquer the other world’s seas.
In the culinary tradition of the Adriatic, codfish was most often prepared for the Christmas Eve, in stews, soups, and as spread. Nowadays, it is prepared throughout Croatia and can be consumed fresh or dried. When dried codfish is prepared, it is most frequently soaked in brine for several days whereas the preparation of the fresh codfish is faster and simpler.
We have learnt the secrets of preparation of codfish from professionals, and we certainly hope you will try your hand at preparation of some new recipes this year, because culinary ideas with this superb fish are not missing. Because of its meat structure, codfish is very amenable fish for casseroles, salads, and is ideal in combination with pickled crithmum or paprika. It can also be prepared breaded, in fish soups with chickpeas, you can serve it with garlic or dill sauces, or you can prepare other vegetables like puree of peas or root vegetables as its side dish.
A high cliff spectacularly overlooking the Cetina gorge in Omiš, “the city of the song,” has housed the family-run Knez Restaurant. The menu of the restaurant has been created under the influence of the culinary tradition of the hinterland and the coastal areas, conceived by its owner together with the chef or the restaurant and Petar Čurlin, a passionate gourmet. In the winter months, guests have an opportunity to taste in classical festivity codfish dishes at the Knez.
"We do not have codfish on offer at any time but on special occasions and for holidays. We provide it from local suppliers. When we make supply, we always pay attention to the codfish size, actually it should weight more than 700 grams because it is of better quality then. Furthermore, we prefer wild codfish. Codfish is a specific fish in terms of its aroma, and personally, I love preparing – and eating – it. We prepare codfish goulash or red codfish (bakalar na crveno), then white codfish (bakalar na bijelo) and codfish spread."
They prepared red codfish especially for us. "We buy dried codfish, and when it is dried, it should be preferably soaked in cold water for three to four days before preparation. The water temperature should be between 7˚C and 10˚C. Besides, water in which codfish is soaked should be changed two or three times a day. When the fish has become tender, we cook it. We keep a part of the broth, sift the waste remaining from the cooking, clean the fish from the skin and bones and only use pure meat for preparation. Then we cook home-produced potatoes in their skin. When the potato is cooked, we cut it in panes and simmer on oil olive. We also layer red codfish. We first put a line of potatoes, then codfish, finely chopped garlic, black pepper, parsley and do it all the way until we exhaust all the ingredients. We pour the broth in which we cooked the codfish over all of that, and add some tomatoes and cook on moderate temperature for an hour and fifty minutes to two hours and ten minutes, depending on the quantity. When everything is finished, we serve red codfish in a deep bowl and always sprinkle finely chopped parsley and black pepper."
On romantic Rab, one can relish gastronomic charms along with the beauty of the island scenery. The famous family-run Ana Tavern which has developed into a restaurant offers the best of the island’s products, and in days of holidays, they prepare special dishes for their guests. We talked about codfish and culinary specialties with Danijela Krstinić, the restaurant owner.
"When codfish is concerned, we prepare spread and white codfish with potatoes. White codfish is not difficult to prepare. First, codfish is soaked for two to three days to get tender. Then, it should be cleaned off the skin, bones and fins. Meat is torn in pieces and put on the bottom with pieces of potatoes, garlic, parsley, laurel. You then the same ingredients in layers until the end and pour water, white wine – we most frequently use chardonnay or žlahtina – salt, black pepper, olive oil, red onion and cook all that slowly until the codfish becomes tender. The potatoes and codfish are used raw and cooked together in the dish so that their tastes are imbued during the cooking."
In the southernmost part of the country, with a view of the Cavtat Bay the Galija tavern has woven its menu of fish and sea tastes. With the classical Dalmatian spiza, diners always have an opportunity to taste interesting culinary ideas born on numerous sea journeys. One of such dishes is certainly bakalama, which the owner, Mislav Burđalez tends to prepare himself for the guests.
Bakalama is prepared in the season of cabbage, which we call raštan in Dalmatia, actually this is green local cabbage. Fresh cabbage leaves are first boiled. Preparation of dried codfish requires the codfish to be “bathed” or soaked in brine for 48 hours. When it gets tender, its bones and skin are taken off, and we wrap the cleaned meat with dry edible boletus in cabbage leaves, just like the sarma. When the bakalamas are ready, we fry some onion on oil olive until golden brown, we add the bakalamas, pour some water and port or prošek, and add some pepperoncini in the end. We put the casserole on high temperature and when the dish starts boiling, we lower the temperature and leave it to simmer. We often serve this dish in the casserole, direct from the oven. -
Holiday menus have traditionally included the best pieces of meat and fish, which would often be stored and preserved during the whole year waiting for those joint reunion moments. Codfish was dried, prepared and stored for the winter months when, amidst frequent food shortages and unfavourable weather conditions to go out to the seas for fresh fish, people could dine gala meals and enjoy first-class delights. Gourmet imaginativeness and resourcefulness have been preserved until the very day when it is as savoured as it used to be.