Croatian Cooking: Under the bell {Ispod čripnje}

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Croatian Cooking

Under the bell {Ispod čripnje/Peke}

Croatian cooking is at it’s very best with what is known as Under the lid. Is a literal translation for what we here in Croatia call ispod čripnje or ispod peke, depending on which part of Croatia you live.

Ispod čripnje is essentially is food that is cooked under extreme heat, using a terracotta lid, and burning wood embers. Ispod peke is our most favourite way of cooking, which along with this Grilled Fish requires very few ingredients and an open fire. It is such an important method of cooking here in Croatia, we highly recommend trying your hand at it when visiting by taking this food & wine tour + cooking class near Zadar.

croatian cooking fire beer Ispod cripnje
A fire & a drink go hand in hand

What can you cook under your bell?

Just like with lots of things with Croatian cooking, you eat what is in season. Which means any number of mouthwatering meals can be prepared using this method. Favourites of ours here in the Adriatic are:

  • Seafood:  Squid, cuttlefish or octopus.
  • Meat: Veal, chicken, pork & lamb
  • Vegetables – here you’ll find a vegetarian recipe
  • Plus: bread

No matter what you choose, I have not yet seen any ispod čripnje/peke cooked without a huge serving of potatoes which are also cooked alongside the meat of choice.

Tips from our kitchen to yours

  • Let me warn you up front that this type of Croatian cooking, whilst simple to prepare is tricky to master. Why? Because it’s all in the timing. Once you have placed your embers on top of your terracotta dome, it’s unlike an oven or pot, where you can peek inside. You’re blind, you can no longer see what you are cooking or if it’s ready.
  • Keep some wood burning on the side, in case you need additional embers during the cooking process.
  • To be able to make this dish, you need an outdoor cooking area. In Croatia, most village houses  have an out door kitchen known as a crna kuhinja {black kitchen}. But never fear in Australia we set up a make-shift one in the backyard, so you can too.

croatian cookinIspod cripnje

croatian cookinIspod cripnje
croatian cookinIspod cripnje
croatian cookinIspod cripnje
croatian cookinIspod cripnje

 

Let’s prepare

  • Start your fire approximately one hour before you wish to start cooking. There are two important things to do here. In a large bowl, mix 2 kg of peeled potatoes, which have been cut into quarters lengthways. Season with Vegeta & good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
    • Ensure you hang the čripnje lid/bell over the fire so it will heat up.
    • Make the fire in the same spot you will place the tray of meat and potatoes. The concrete below needs to be heated up as well.
  • Layer the potatoes, in a wide, yet shallow metal pan
  • Season your meat with Vegeta, and coat with more EVOO and crushed garlic.
  • Place the meat on top of the potatoes
  • You can also arrange around the meat, seasonal vegetables, such as  onions, carrots, peppers/paprikas cut into quarters
  • Throw in a few sprigs of rosemary and a bay leaf

Whilst practicing your new skills, why not grab a bottle of your favourite Croatian wine and call your family and friends over and catch up while you wait for what’s under the lid.

Fire it up

  • Place your metal pan in the cooking area, and cover with the lid/bell
  • Cover the lid/bell with your wood embers, this will create a seal
  • Leave it to cook. It’s usually at this point a glass of domace rakija {home made brandy} is enjoyed

This video shows you just how awesome cooking under the lid is, it was prepared by Mislav Šutalo.

BACKPACKING DIVA PEKA.jpg-large
The end result. Photo Credit: Backpacking Diva

BACKPACKING DIVA PEKA

How long does it take

I have asked all of those in the know & they all tell me, that the timings simply can’t be explained. Seems to me that it’s more a case of intuition rather than that of a stopwatch. So I say to you, give it a go and just know that practice will make perfect. If you’re like me and you need to know a rough guide, I timed the last few that were prepped and they took around 45-60 minutes.

Have you ever tried this? How did it turn out? Any tips we’re missing to make it even better? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

If you want to come to Croatia and try this for yourself, here are a list of things to do?

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Comments (42)

  1. Can anyone suggest a supplier in Australia! Mum and dad are building a wood fire oven and I would love to get them one.

    1. We never found one when we lived there – but go and ask your local Croatia butcher/store – they may able to advise.

  2. Hi Aussies, I live in Viskovo near to Rijeka in a big family house. We have a konobar with an inside open roštilj and also one outside. We use the pekar often especially when friends and family are visiting. The food always turns out beautiful and such a relaxing way of cooking. A tip for lifting the lid: we have attached a chain and pully system so the lid can be lifted to check the food and or add more of our wine or water, nice and safe.

    1. My great grandfather use to say,do not lift up peka any more than once,that means 1hour and 15 minutes,lift up peka,then put meat on the top of potatos,put peka back down for another 30 to 40 minutes,its not nice to let air in to peka
      another tip,always put meat first, then potatos,after 1hour 15 minutes put meat on the top of potatos

  3. Pingback: Croatian Recipes: Madarica {Layered Chocolate Slice} | Croatia Travel Blog
  4. I’m so happy to see that this technique would work well for vegetarians. And thank you for the link to the vegetarian Peka. I’m excited to try this out!

  5. Definitely an art to master it without being able to peek. I’m such a dabbler in the kitchen! (Except when I get so distracted it just burns). Looks like it would be reasonably forgiving to a bit of variation, though (within reason).

  6. This is genuinely really interesting. Thanks for sharing and thanks for linking up to #recipeoftheweek. I’ve Pinned this and there’s a fresh linky live now 😀

  7. Wow I found this really interesting:) I have never seen this way of cooking before. Thank you for sharing. I come from #recipeoftheweek 🙂

  8. we love this way of cooking, we are lucky that some neighbours/friends always prepare it for us when we visit our house. And some local friend (she’s a very good cook) will give us a “peka lid” as a house-warming present when we get round to building our own barbecue (one of the jobs for next year..).. So hopefully not long until we can also attempt to cook like this…

  9. This is a great way to cook. We have bought our peka pan, a iron pan, on the Benkovac market this september. It took us a couple of times to get the feeling. The first time it was too long, too hot and too black 🙂 But then again we had enough wine and beer so, nema problema!

    1. Yes, see it’s just a matter of getting the timings right. So long as you have wine and bread… ohhh and a few rakijas, you’ll be okay! Plus your kitchen looks top notch… very fancy!!

      We’re off to Benkovac in Nov….can’t wait to see what we can buy!

      1. Thanks SJ,
        The Benkovac market is really great. You can buy everything there. You should go there very early otherwise you’ll end up in a traffic jam (we didn’t believe the first time we went there, but it’s very busy). Tip, after the market you should go for peka at Sopot for lunch. It’s really nice there and if the weather is nice you can sit outside.
        Btw, we saw also your favorite animal on the market 😉

        1. Awesome, thanks for the tips Rene… eeeeeeeeeee those Donkeys are so damn cute. Look how mini they are. I can’t wait to get one!!

  10. This is indeed a great way to cook!! Last year for our holidays on the South Coast of N. S .W. we had a peka every night for dinner !!! My husband had received it as a Christmas present from the kids …. We had to lock it away during a Total Fire Ban ………….. Your Lessons in Croatian are progressing very well !!!!!’

  11. Definitely the most tasty food comes out from under a nice homestyle peka. We brought the steel version back with us to the US last year and have had many successfully tasty meals made with it. BUT…. the overall consensus is that no matter which peka or cripnja or ingredients we use state side, the outcome is NEVER the same as it is back in the home land. Our conclusion is that the ingredients just can’t compare to the real-deal organic potatoes, carrots, onions, beef, pork and lamb from the Dalmatian region. Unreal.

    (quick side note… since there was some talk of language variations, I believe it’s spelled cripnja, not čripnja… no “ch” sound at beginning. perhaps you can verify since you’re a local now? 🙂 )

    here’s some pics of our backyard version, since we didn’t have the luxury of a crna kuhinja yet….
    start to finish.

    Now I’m really, really hungry.

    1. There are so many words to describe this style of cooking ,depending on the region….everything in Dalmatia tastes better …..

    2. OHHHH BOY! You knocked this one out of the park. What a set up!! Top photos, thanks so very much for sharing.

      You’re so right about the taste – we found the same thing in Australia. It’s definitely the potatoes AND the home made olive oil. They are the two key things in my opinion.

      As for the c v’s č – it’s how I have learned it. I’ll double check with my teacher on Monday. Dalmatians are lazy talkers, they won’t notice the difference anyways 🙂

      1. No worries at all…. my folks are from Privlaka and area as well, so just adding some editorial commentary. Of course, I would not be surprised if two areas of the same town have different terminology / spelling for the same exact thing! ha!
        (maybe you remember meeting up with us at Jigga bar? lol )

        1. Ahhhhh ha! Mike you sneaky bugger!!!

          Well, I did check with moja učiteljica and she said…. ispod peke is more common in continental part of Croatia and BOTH ispod čripnje or cripnje in the coast. Damn Croats like to make it tricky for me to learn!!

          Now back to cooking people… nothing to see here…

          1. Haha…. I miss having a karlovacko at the Jigga…what a view! 🙁

            Yea, this will be one of millions of examples where there are 4 ways / terms to refer to the same thing in Croatian! Fun!

            Already trying to plan our trip back for next summer….. *sigh

          2. Summer will be here before you know. Right now it’s cold and grey & Jigga is closed 🙁

    1. Of course, you could just do an entire tray of veggies. Why not? I’d just say you’d need a little extra EVOO to make sure they do not dry out. Try it and let us know how it goes… with photos!

  12. Fantastic post! What a wonderful way of cooking – Thanks for giving me my ‘something new I learned today’ moment 🙂

  13. I don’t know the word črpinja, but I’m guessing that with ispod it would be črpinja, not črpinje, as it is ispod peka, not ispod peke. Whatever the grammatical case ending, this is the most fantastic way of preparing delicious meals. Lamb and octopus are my faves. I always prepare the food while someone else prepares the fire and peka.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Morgan. We agree it’s the BEST WAY. We’ve been looking for octopus since we arrived, it’s so hard to find. We have managed to find it once. Are you in the USA or Australia?

      Also, yes the last letter changing peka to peke is a grammatical thing. It’s one of the 7 Croatian cases, genitive. When you use the word ispod, you must change the last letter of the next word. Peka becomes peke and čripnja becomes čripnje – it’s all so very confusing I know. But thanks to my wonderful Croatian language teacher I am learning fast. Thanks again for reading along, and commenting.

      If you have any photos of your Peka, you can load them here, I’d love to see how you do it.

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