Peka (“bell”) is a very popular traditional method of preparing various specialities across Croatia. It involves roasting the food over open flames using a clay or wrought-iron baking vessel. Although the method was used for various purposes throughout Croatia’s history of food preparation, most people associate it with only a few of the most popular dishes that make everyone’s mouth water. Among these is bread baked “under the bell” (ispod peke in Croatian), as well as roasted beef or lamb, or even octopus, which will develop a specific flavour in the process. Meat roasted under the bell is juicy and tender, easily separated from the bone, and is normally accompanied by potatoes that are cooked and roasted in the meat juices that give them a distinct flavour.
The dome-shaped bell lid has a handle on top to lift it from the base, because it becomes too hot to be touched once it is heated. After positioning it over the food, the bell is covered with burning embers. The right kind of embers need to be produced to prepare food “under the bell” (or čripnja, sač or peka) above a fireplace, normally using hornbeam or beech wood. Along with the embers that heat the vessel from above, a fire smoulders from beneath the bell, which enables a uniform roast.
Preparing food under the bell is a roasting method that takes a lot of time, sometimes even a few hours, depending on the type and amount of meat. In that case, it requires the food to be turned over and around a few times to make sure it is equally cooked on all sides, and some wine or broth is then added around the meat to make it tender and finger-licking good. Embers need to be carefully maintained to sustain the hours-long cooking process. But it is always worth the wait, because the end result is so delicious even the most impatient guests that are gathered around the fire with a glass of fine wine won’t complain.