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Croatian Fish Stew

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    Posted: 10 June 2015 at 07:39
As many of your know, Ron subscribes to Saveur magazine’s recipe of the day feature. A week or so back they posted a recipe for Brodet, which they identified as a Croatian fish stew. Because Ron and I are both fascinated with fish soups and stews, he forwarded it on to me.

Brodet, as it turns out, is associated more with coastal Dalmatia than Croatia as a whole. This isn't surprising in a region where borders are almost totally political, rather than cultural. Brodet is, at base, a catch-of-the-day kind of stew, in which several fish and seafood varieties are used, depending on what the fishing boats bring back.

As is typical of Saveur, their recipe was very cheffy and incredibly expensive to make. Even putting aside the question of availability in most of America, to make a seafood stew using monkfish, sea bass, shrimp, and langoustines would require a second mortgage. And, while it might be tasty, it’s certainly not a soup of the people, which Brodet most definitely is.

FWIW, here is the Saveur version:

BRODET
(CROATIAN FISH STEW)


1 cup packed parsley leaves
1⁄2 cup olive oil, plus more
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
14 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. skinless monkfish fillets, pin bones removed
1 lb. skinless sea bass fillets, pin bones removed
10 oz. raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
6 raw, unpeeled langoustines (optional), heads on
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

Purée parsley, half the oil, the lemon juice, half the garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a bowl with monkfish, sea bass, shrimp, and, if using, the langoustines; toss to combine and chill 10 minutes.

Grease an 8-qt. Dutch oven with oil. Toss remaining garlic, the potatoes, leeks, and onions in a bowl; spread 1⁄3 of the mixture in bottom of pan; add 1⁄3 each the remaining oil, the wine and the tomatoes. Remove shrimp and langoustines from marinade and set aside; arrange 1⁄3 of the remaining fish mixture over the top. Repeat layering and add 1 cup water; cover and boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, shaking pan occasionally, but not stirring, until fish and vegetables are tender, 12–15 minutes. Add shrimp and langoustines; cover and cook until pink, about 5 minutes more.

Still, I was intrigues and did some research. Soon as I uncovered the fact that this dish is Dalmatian, rather than Croation, per se, I figured there had to be an Italian version. Dalmatia and Italy face each other across the Adriatic, and there is a lot of similarity in the cuisines.

Sure enough, Brodet actually started life in Italy, as a fairly prosaic fish soup called Brodetto. Over time it evolved, and versions of it are found all up and down the Adriatic coast.

John Stark, food writer for the Boston Globe, defines it perfectly. “Think of Brodetto as bouillabaisse’s less-celebrated Italian cousin, not as fussy and easier to spell,” he says.

Here’s a typical Brodetto recipe:

Brodetto
(Savory Italian Fish Soup


•     4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
•     6 stalks celery & leaves, cleaned chopped in to 1/2 inch pieces
•     5 small spring onions, with green tops white and green part sliced 1/4 inch thick
•     2 sprigs marjoram
•     2 sprigs parsley
•     2 sprigs thyme
•     4 cloves garlic, smashed
•     3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
•     24 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
•     2 pepperoncini peppers, cut in half
•     1 (16 ounce) can plum tomatoes, lightly crush with your hands
•     3⁄4 lb cuttlefish, cleaned and sliced 1 inch thick
•     3 cups dry white wine
•     2 (1 3/4 lb) sea bass or 2 (1 3/4 lb) striped bass, head and tail on, gutted and scaled, cut in half across the mid-section
•     12 mussels, scrubbed
•     6 razor clams
•     6 large shrimp, head on
•     1⁄2 lb squid, cleaned and sliced 1/2 inch thick
•     salt and pepper, to taste
•     1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup

In a large stock pot over medium high heat add olive oil, celery, spring onion, marjoram, parsley, thyme, and garlic sauté until onions begin to become transparent about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncino, canned whole tomato, cuttlefish and wine.

Allow to come up to a simmer and then cook for 10 minutes.
Add the Bass by placing on top of the broth and very gently pushing the fish down. Allow to cook 5 minutes.

Add the mussels, razor clams, shrimp, and squid by placing on top of broth and fish gently pushing down with a large ladle and basting the shell fish with the hot broth.

Cover stockpot with a lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until mussels and clams are all open and shrimp and squid are cooked through.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Carefully remove to serving platter and sprinkle parsley on top.

Notice that the ingredients are added in layers, depending on cooking time. When making Brodet, layering is the whole secret, because you want the fish (usually at least three types) to remain in large pieces. So you layer the ingredients, and never stir. Instead, periodically lift and gently rotate the pot, to prevent sticking and scorching.

Traditionally, the three fish are chosen for specific purposes. You want one for flavor, one for the consistency of its flesh, and an oily one to boost the thickness of the stew. Eel most often serves as that last one. Other common choices include bonito, flounder, dentex, red mullet, sea bream, cod, John Dory, and sea bass.   Shellfish are added as well, including scampi, crabs, mussels, and Baimain bugs---which are a form of spiny lobster.

In short, whatever is available. This stew is more a cooking style than a specific recipe.

Here is another version of Brodet. You can see the similarities to the Saveur recipe, and also the differences. Between them, they can serve as inspiration and for your own experiments:

Dalmatian Brodet

3 lbs assorted fish, cut into steaks or cutlets
100 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
Juice of half a lemon
20 garlic cloves, minced
½ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped tomatoes
100 ml white wine
Salt and pepper
500 ml fish stock
12 mussels, cleaned and debearded
6 scampi or small crabs
12 cherry tomatoes

Marinate the fish in the oil, lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of the minced garlic and most of the parsley (reserving a little for garnish) for a few hours.

Heat some more oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan or clay pot and sauté the remaining garlic, adding the onion after about 30 seconds. When the onion is slightly colored, add the chopped tomato and cook for one minute. Add the wine and cook for about 20 minutes.

Season the marinated fish with salt and pepper, making sure you get each piece. Add to the pan and stir well, then add the fish stock or water to just cover the fish. Bring to boil over high heat then continue cooking rapidly for 20 minutes. Don’t stir, but carefully shake the pan instead to avoid breaking the fish. Add the mussels, scampi and cherry tomatoes in the last five minutes.

In case I wasn’t clear, neither Ron nor I have made any of these recipes as yet. But Brodet is definitely on each of our lists.
If anyone should try it in the meantime, or if you’re already familiar with this great-sounding dish, please post your experiences.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 June 2015 at 09:10
Don't be surprised that this dish is limited to the coastal region. Up until let's say 30-40 years ago, when the highway was finally built, travelling from the interior to the coast was quite a slog, and not a lot of people had cars.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 June 2015 at 13:56
Not surprised at all, Darko. Even today, the cuisine of Dalmatia and that of inland Croatia are rather different---for both the reason you gave and other causes.

Most often, when we look at regional foods, the delineating factors are ethnic or political in nature. But it sometimes happens that we should be looking at physical features instead.

Andreas Viestad did this with the Indian Ocean, for instance. And I've often thought---and this stew supports the notion---that the Adriatic could be looked at as a culinary region.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 June 2015 at 18:38
You need to realize that Croatia is quite regional when it comes to cooking. Size wise, it isn't that big of a country, but there are differences. For example, the area where my wife is from, they cook a style called a "kotal". Where I'm from is approx 30km away, and I had never heard of this until I met her here in Canada.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 June 2015 at 02:41
Well....these dishes sound wonderful.
I never met a boulliabaise I didn't like, nor a ciopinno for that matter.
Guess I'm just a seafood nut....will definitely be trying a version of one of these dishes.
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 June 2015 at 08:52
My apologies, Darko. Rereading my original post, I see there was a typo. Discussing the differences between Croation, overall, and Dalmation, I typed "this is surprising....." Should have said, "this isn't surprising....."

I went and fixed it. But I see where your posts came from.

Dave: Be sure and fill us in, when you do make it, on both your exact recipe and how you like the dish.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 June 2015 at 18:54
No apologies necessary.  I think we all realize that food and cooking are not defined by political borders. There are so many variables, but as you infer, geography plays a big role. Along with that there is a political influence based on alliances, probably moreso in Europe.
 Croatia for example, was part of the Austo-Hungarian empire, so there are many common elements from other parts of Eastern Europe, and from the west as well. Heck, we have goulash, we have schnitzel, we have fish stews.... We have Greek influence, Moorish as well.

All, this to say that, I'm not really sure if there is anything that can be defined as "Croatian"
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 June 2015 at 05:37
....and don't forget Turkish; from a culinary point of view, probably the most important leveling influence in the Med.

But, just because we have those influences, doesn't mean there isn't a unique way a particular area interprets them. This could depend on physical features; on religion, on other factors.

Take, for instance, the Turkish and Persian food influences on the Mideast. Widespread and pervading, for sure. But, given the restrictions imposed by halel and kashruth, we know that Muslim and Jewish cooks will often interpret the foodways differently than the originators.

So,do we therefore think of Jewish and Arab food as culinary regions? A case could be made for that. Indeed, a good case could be made that they are actually one region, because the restrictions are so similar.

Sounds sort of silly, I know. But we actually do that now, in some cases. Morocco, for instance, is partly defined, culinarily, as where the Turkish influence ends. So, on one hand it is part of the North African region called the Maghreb (itself defined by food, btw), but different because its food influences do not include Turkey.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 January 2016 at 19:27
Excellent discussion, gentlemen, and I apologise for missing it last year when it was posted. Unfortunately my attention and resources were directed elsewhere.

When I came across this post last night, the discussion on it triggered an almost-forgotten memory. I grabbed my FotW volume titled, The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, from my shelf, and sure enough, I found this:

Quote From Time/Life's Foods of the World - The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, 1968:

Brodet Na Dalmatinski Nacin

Fish Dalmatian Style


To serve 4:


Salt

A 3-pound carp or scrod, cut into 8 six-ounce steaks about 1 inch thick

Flour

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 1.5 cups)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped small bottled Tabasco peppers

1/4 teaspoon white pepper


Salt the fish steaks on both sides; dip in flour and shake off the excess. In a heavy 12-inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the foam subsides, add the fish and cook for 2.5 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Remove to a platter.


Heat the rest of the oil and butter in the skillet, and when the foam subsides, add the onions. Cook them for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are translucent. Add the tomatoes, wine, vinegar, tabasco peppers and white pepper. Bring to a boil and stir. Return the fish to the skillet and simmer, tightly covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.


Arrange the fish steaks on a platter and pour the sauce over them and serve.


Obviously, the "Tabasco peppers" are a readily-available American substitute for local Croatian varieties, but otherwise, I find this version very intriguing, and am strongly considering this as a possible project this spring, when the carp will be firm and fresh from the winter. Considering that it's for freshwater fish, rather than from the bounty of the sea, perhaps it is an inland adaptation; nevertheless, I am positive that sea fish and shellfish would work just as well, in lieu of carp.


While I have no proof, I'm nearly certain that this version would give the offering from Saveur a serious run for its money, possibly with better credentials, to boot. The  commentary in the chapter that accompanied the recipes did provide some good and useful contemporary information that - in my opinion - adds considerable ambiance to the discussion:


Quote One of the difficulties in trying to understand Yugoslav cooking or Yugoslavs anything springs from the complexity of the country.... It must be remembered that until 1918 there was no Yugoslavia as we know it now. The new country was a hodgepodge of nations and provinces. Some of these had been under the influence of the Habsburgs, some under the Turks, and some had experienced both forms of domination. It can be said quite fairly that Yugoslavia as we know it today is a composite of Central European and Middle Eastern Tradition and culture - and certainly food and cooking....

Understandably, the Yugoslavs are regional in spirit. A man is proud not of the fact that he is a Yugoslav, but that he is a Serb, [Croat,] Macedonian or Dalmatian. And he is right, for this is his real heritage.

There is indeed a Yugoslav cuisine, although it naturally (and in my opinion, fortunately) reflects the past - the history, folklore and tradition of these colourful individualists. Yugoslav cooks, while suffering the humiliations imposed by erstwhile enemies and occupiers, have learned a good many things from them, as well as from neighbours and friends.... [For instance,] on the Dalmatian coast...there is a marked Italian flavour to the food....

All Yugoslav cooking is sturdy and direct; basically it is peasant cooking: heavy, spicy and full of strong flavours.... The popular dishes are the ones [that] grandmothers and mothers cooked at home, often for many people.... These are good, solid dishes that have the unmistakable, exotic flavour of the region; they have not yet been "modernised" to the point where they taste like just about anything else....

There are fine fish in the rivers of Yugoslavia and along the seacoast....  As a result, Yugoslavs have always been enthusiastic fishermen. Mihailo Petrović is a colourful case in point. Famous as a mathematician and amateur musician in Belgrade in the 1930s, Petrović was much prouder of his master fisherman's diploma (awarded to him by the fisherman's guild for his skill with the rod) than of his university diplomas. When Petrović wasn't writing a book on higher on higher mathematics or playing the fiddle, he was to be found fishing near his house at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. He would cook the fish he caught right away, bouillabaisse style, in a large copper container. His fish soup...was famous partly because no one else knew the exact ingredients. When he was about to add spices and other little things, Petrović would quickly distract his guest's attention - by having a string quartet play or some such diversion - and add his "secret" ingredients. He probably added olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and white wine, among other things.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 January 2017 at 15:00
I was going through some old emails today and came across these notes from some correspondence that Brook and I had regarding Brodet. Some of this might be repeated information, but I will add it to the thread so as to provide a more complete picture of this ubiquitous dish:

Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

Brodet is...like bouillabaisse, a fish stew/soup that uses a selection of fish and seafood. Basically, whatever is fresh to the day. Eel is a very common ingredient, btw. But a lot of what we would think of as by-catch is used as well.

Something that immediately showed up: Brodet is most associated with the Dalmatian coast. When I read that I immediately thought there must be an Italian version. And, sure enough, Brodet actually traces its origins to Italy.

Here is an interesting write-up that traces the soup and discusses its make-up.

Quote Slovenia: Brodet

There are recipes that seem to wander all over the landscape before settling down to become associated with a specific region. Brodet is one of these.

It looks to have started out life on the Italian side of the Adriatic Sea as brunette, a fairly basic fish soup. But as it traveled around, it started to pick up ingredients: tomatoes here, onions there, some wine vinegar somewhere else. The broth in which the fish was initially simmered became more complex, something more like the court-bouillon of classic French cooking. And then the dish crossed the water to the eastern side of the Adriatic and associated itself with all kinds of different fish: bonito, eel, flounder, dentex, red mullet, sea bream, John Dory. The soup's probably not done with its travels yet: brodet is known as far away as Corfu.

Ideally, brodet should evoke a kind of Adriatic bouillabaise -- the best of the day's catch, simmered fresh in a flavorful stock. Its long residence in the region is suggested by the fact that brodet is often served with that favorite south-central European side dish, polenta. One hint: many brodet recipes suggest that the soup should never be stirred -- this being the best way of keeping the chunks of delicate fish intact. The furthest one may go, in some versions, is to pour fish and stock gently from one pot to the next.


There are numerous web pages about Brodet. If nothing else, be sure and look at http://arousingappetites.com/brodet/ and follow the links. It’s a great intro to this soup.

Basically, what my research shows, is that any fish and seafood can be used to create a Brodet. I’m thinking cod and shrimp as the basics, then whatever else is available and affordable. The trick seems to be in the cooking technique, rather than the specific contents.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 January 2017 at 18:24
Playing off where you are, Ron, and the requirements that one of the seafood elements by oily to provide richness and depth of flavor, you might include trout as well as the cod and shrimp.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 March 2017 at 02:56


Brook,

These fish specialties are absolutely exceptionally outstanding.

The Brodetto,  is on my list for tomorrow. Just wrote down the ingredients and shall call my Fish Monger, Miguel ..


Remarkable post.

Thank you for sharing all these fabulous fish / shellfish récipes.






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