Underneath the Traditional Dalmatian Peka

Though I’m generally quite comfortable in the kitchen, my father is the master of the peka. This rustic, traditional Dalmatian style of cooking results in beautifully roasted meats and veggies cooked under a cast-iron dome known as a peka. The ensuing dish itself is also referred to as peka, and either veal, lamb, or octopus usually headlines the show. Though you can order this signature regional dish – typically in advance – at many restaurants across Dalmatia, I prefer to enjoy it cooked at home with family and friends. After all, cooking peka is an experience you don’t want to miss!

Our home in Dalmatia happens to feature an outdoor fireplace that is perfect for housing the peka. Not kidding: the first time my father laid eyes on the stone fireplace, I think I saw tears in his eyes… followed by an enthusiastic “PEKA!”. My father likes to make a big show out of cooking peka, and usually starts the fire much earlier than necessary. This way, we can enjoy some wine along the way and the coziness offered by the fire if it’s chilly.

We start by coarsely chopping our vegetables – I opt to use both white and sweet potatoes, several types of peppers to add some color, and onions. We then trim and season our meat (veal, in this case) which we always purchase from a local butcher (we like Mesnice Tomasović in Omiš). Finally, we add the glorious mess to a substantial round pan along with whole garlic cloves, domestic olive oil, a generous splash of red or wine wine depending on the protein, and a sprig of fresh rosemary from our bushes. Like everything epicurean in Croatia, there is no formal recipe; an experienced chef leads with his memory, imagination and mood.

My father slowly lowers the lid and then covers it with the hot coals. Now all we have to do is wait. And then? Begrudgingly wait some more. Delicious anticipation, my friends, is the most difficult part! After 45 minutes pass, my father carefully removes the coals from the top of the lid and checks the meat. The verdict? It’s perfect, yet again.

Peka is meant to be shared – that means we also take some to our neighbors if we’re not entertaining extended family and friends. So pull up a chair, pour a big glass of red vino and get comfortable, because you’re about to indulge in one of the tastiest, most traditional Dalmatian meals out there. Dobar tek!