When you have a close look at culinary tales of continental Croatia, you’ll see that the carp has earned the reputation of being a fish fit for royalty. This freshwater fish is the staple food of holiday menus, family get-togethers or when you just get the urge to succumb to hedonism.
Fiš (fish stew), which is always a bit spicy, perkelt (Pörkölt is a meat stew which originates from Hungary, but is eaten throughout Central Europe and the Balkans), soups, smoked fish or carp on a spit are just some of the cult dishes whose irresistible flavours and archaic preparation style make them the most sought after dishes.
Being a freshwater fish, carp prefer bodies of water such as rivers or lakes. They’re popular with anglers and the fact that there are about 25 fish farms in northern Croatia specialising in carp farming just goes to show that carp is the number one fish in aquaculture. Wild carp prefer muddy waters, they can grow up to a metre long, weigh up to 20 kilogrammes and live up to 50 years.
This slightly gloomy fish possesses exceptional meat that’s renowned for its sumptuous, light and somewhat sweet flavour. Carp are a frequent ingredient in a great deal of recipes because they were a staple back in the old days. Every family from Slavonia to Baranja has its own secret carp recipe. Befitting a freshwater fish, it goes best when prepared with local ingredients. Carp goes great with bacon, lard, hot ground peppers and sour cream. When it comes to side dishes, you can choose anything from potatoes, mushrooms, polenta, root vegetables or a glass of nice white wine such as Welschriesling thanks to which the drunken carp is a widely known recipe.
Carp on a spit is the most famous traditional carp dish. It’s a prime example of cooking over an open fire. This well-known specialty is the standout delicacy in ethno village of Karanac which is located in Baranja. Chef Andreja Vukojičić walked us through the process of preparing this dish at restaurant Baranjska kuća.
- The first thing I do before preparing the fish is starting the fire in order to get some ember. Honey locust wood is the best when it comes to making a good fire with plenty of ember. While the fire is crackling, I clean the fish. Then I add some salt, a bit of mustard and some Vegeta. When the ember is ready, the carp is placed on a spit and is slowly baked for two hours. That way it will remain juicy and won’t get dry. When it’s done, we put some garlic and ground hot peppers on it. The carp is served with jacket potatoes that been wrapped in foil and baked over ember. Once we remove the foil, the potato is halved, stuffed with cow cottage cheese and sprinkled with ground hot peppers, she says.
Restaurant Zeleni kut is located right next to Mrežnica river in Duga Resa. For over fifty years they’ve been preparing freshwater fish specialties using trout, catfish, zander and carp. Carps are obtained from the well-known fish farms in Draganić, whereas the fish are kept alive in tanks for at least two weeks. This is extremely important when it comes to carp. Given that during these two weeks the fish is kept out of sludge, it is purified and loses excess fats. That way it will be much more delicious. Head chef Tanja Puškarić told us more about fiš paprikaš and fish soup they prepare at Zeleni kut.
- Carp fish soup is a clear soup made from the tail and head. The tail and the head are cooked in root vegetable stock. They’re taken out when the soup is done, the bones are removed and the meat is placed in the soup. Fiš paprikaš is prepared in a completely different way using plenty of onion, red peppers, pepper groats, a slice of lemon and laurel. Once the fish stew starts simmering, then we add carp that has been sliced in the shape of a horseshoe and add some Welschriesling. The fish is done in ten minutes and the stew can then be removed from the stove. She tells us that it’s served with polenta or ribbon-shaped noodles.
Family restaurant Stari Fenjeri is located near Požega. They run their own fish pond and they’re widely known for their smoked carp. Smoked carp is a traditional dish that was commonly used to prepare soups or beans. Owner Petar Odvorčić let us in on the process of making their signature dish.
- An ideal carp shouldn’t weigh more than two kilogrammes. The carp is first thermally processed, brined and then it can be smoked. It’s smoked in ready-made chambers you can buy. It’s best to smoke it using deciduous tree sawdust with common hornbeam being the best choice. The carp is smoked at a low temperature for a day. After that it’s placed on ember so it would get warm and crispy before serving it. It’s served with the house potatoes – Petar points out.