In order to make a dish in the real, authentic sort of way, you might find yourself employing a particular trick or tactic that seems a bit odd, a little funny and maybe even slightly counterintuitive.
With not one but two of these kinds of tricks, brodet certainly fits the bill for these types of recipes.
Don’t worry… we’ve got you covered on what these tricks are, and given how the brodet turns out in the end, it’s very well worth it.
Brodet and Dalmatian Cuisine
Technically, brodet is a dish from Croatia, but to call it representative of Croatian cuisine might be slightly misleading. Not that brodet isn’t really tasty and extremely popular, but rather because the idea of a national pan-Croatian cuisine doesn’t really exist.
The truth is that Croatia, in part because of its diverse and oddly-shaped geography, is more of an aggregation of completely different regional cuisines with completely different traditions and influences from one another. Add the minor detail that Croatia as we know it today has only been its own sovereign independent state for ~20 years (and not part of a greater Yugoslav state), and you have a country that boasts all sorts of culinary diversity.
In the far east of the country (here’s a helpful map picture for context), you have the region of Slavonia. Because of its proximity towards more of continental Europe and a harsher more seasonal climate, Slavonian recipes have strong traces of Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman influences and favor more the pickled vegetables, smoked meats and sausages. Then you have Croatia proper, also considered the mainland portion of Croatia. Around the capital of Zagreb and other sub-provinces like Gorski Kotar and Lika, you’ll find an even heavier Austro-Hungarian influence and a food lifestyle adapted around its pastured and highland terrain. Here, you might find breaded meats, goulashes and stuffed cabbage (not all too unlike Hungary’s toltott kaposzta).
As you move further west and southward, you come towards Istria and Dalmatia… and to the home of brodet.
Characteristics of Dalmatian Cuisine
Since Istrian cuisine shares a lot of similarities to Dalmatian, we’re going to cover them as one overarching regional cuisine here (apologies to the purists out there).
Whereas the continental regions derived a lot of their culinary influences from the likes of the Austro-Hungarians and Ottomans, down in Dalmatia, the culinary landscape is entirely different.
Dalmatia, which comes from an ancient Illyrian word for sheep (not sure why), hugs the coastline of the Adriatic Sea opposite to Italy and neighboring the northwestern parts of Greece. As a result of its geography, the Dalmatian cuisine is more a combination of ancient Roman, Illyrian and Greek influences. And because of its more Mediterranean-esque climate and abundant coastline, a lot of the Dalmatian dishes are rich in fish and seafood, fresh herbs and, of course, copious amounts of olive oil.
Perhaps the most striking contrast between the regions comes in the style of cooking. Up towards the mainland, a lot of cooking styles are focused more on cooking methods that improve the preservation and lifespan of a recipe through longer winters, which is why smoking and pickling are among the main methods. In Dalmatia, on the other hand, where the climate is much more temperate and vegetation grows fresh year-round, the key cooking methods are more “fresher” styles of grilling and boiling, the latter of which is key to brodet.
About the Recipe
When it comes to Dalmatian cuisine, nothing really embodies all its principles quite like brodet does. Deriving from the old Venetian word brodeto, or “broth,” brodet itself is very simple to make… but there are the subtle tricks and intricacies to making it a truly authentic preparation.
The ingredients themselves that go into the brodet aren’t terribly difficult to procure regardless of where you are, which is a good thing. As long as you have access to fresh vegetables and an assortment of fresh fish, then you are all set for making brodet. For a true brodet, you should have at least three different kinds of fish: a thick and meaty fish, an oily fish to help thicken the liquid during cooking and another fish for whatever matches your taste preferences. Shellfish and eel are also highly recommended here too.
The only truly authentic ingredient that you might have trouble procuring is Dalmatian olive oil, among some of the best in the world, although normal extra virgin olive oil can still be used.
When it comes to preparing the brodet, definitely keep this old Dalmatian principle in mind:
A fish must swim three times – once in the sea, once in olive oil, and once in wine!
This is the underpinning “strategy” for creating your truly great brodet. To start, you’ll want to swim all your fish in olive oil. Create an oil-rich marinade with garlic, parsley and a slight touch of lemon juice, then toss your seafood together in it and let it sit for at least an hour.
Then it’s showtime for putting it all together. You’ll start with a large stockpot full of olive oil and your leftover garlic (you’ll be using a lot of garlic for brodet). Add your vegetables that will help add flavor to your brodet and let them cook together for several minutes. Once the vegetables have sweat a bit, then it’s time to introduce the second round of swimming: in wine!
You’ll deglaze your vegetable in a healthy amount of wine, at which point you’ll also introduce your fish and a bunch of fresh herbs into the pot as well. The fish should be slightly submerged in the wine or at least enough to touch and absorb some of the wine’s flavors.
After a minute or two of swimming in wine, it’s time to introduce the sea to your brodet. Depending on the recipe, some traditional Dalmatian recipes might use actual seawater, although more contemporary recipes will use either water or a seafood stock. Whatever your liquid of choice, you’ll add it to your stockpot and barely submerge your fish to let them poach and stew in all three liquids. Be mindful not to add too much “sea,” though, since you don’t want to dilute the overall taste of the brodet, but you’ll definitely want to have enough to keep the fish submerged.
Once your fish is submerged, here’s where the magic (and the “tricks”) take place. First, you want to keep the stockpot completely uncovered during the cooking process and still over a high heat. The goal here – and Trick #1 – is to get the liquid to vigorously boil and where steam can escape. Even though it might feel like it’s cooking too quickly and that you should turn down the heat, don’t. The goal to having a strong boiling that creates an emulsion between the oil, the wine and your broth. Coupled with your oily “sauce thickening” fish, the base broth for your brodet starts to develop a very rich consistency with a stronger taste.
The next trick – Trick #2, if you will – is to not stir the pot. There’s both a small superstition here that stirring will disturb the flavors from combining as they’re supposed to, and you also risk breaking the full, meaty pieces of fish as they “swim.” Instead, whenever you need to redistribute or simply give the soup a bit of a jostle, you’ll grab the handles of the pot and literally shake the pot around a bit, then put it back down.
After ~15 minutes of fish swimming, you’ll add your shellfish (who don’t need that much time to cook) and “shake and bake” for another 5 or so minutes, then you’ll take your brodet off the heat and you’re done!
Our Take on the Recipe
There were a lot of great candidates to choose from, we really liked this particular brodet recipe (and therefore used it as our original reference) mainly because of the heavy handedness with the garlic.
We did cut the amount of garlic in our recipe a bit, though, since we did add some other aromatics in like leeks and onions into the greater stockpot. We also swapped white wine out in favor of red wine, which helped the brodet develop a richer color and also add another type of strong flavor into the broth. Depending on other recipes you might find, both red wine and white wine can be used in brodet pretty interchangeably.
We also padded our brodet with some other minor additions, especially into the broth as it started to boil and emulsify. We added a bay leaf and some fresh rosemary sprigs to add more flavor as well as some dried chili flakes to give an added dimension of heat. We used a little vinegar to add a touch of acidity and flair into the soup as well.
Finally, we omitted the cherry tomatoes from our recipe. They do serve as a nice dressing to the rest of the brodet, but our version started to get a little bit crowded with them.
Normally, brodet is eaten with polenta on the side, so we found it pretty peculiar that – especially given how simple polenta can be to make – most recipes omitted the actually polenta preparation part!
This particular omission we didn’t feel was particularly right, so we added a polenta component to ours. Using a fantastic soft polenta recipe from David Lebovitz as inspiration, we had another small saucepot of polenta made on the side of the brodet itself. It does add a little bit of time to the front-end of the recipe, but the outcome is well worth it.
When making the polenta, we adjusted and “brodet-ized” the original recipe by substituting half of the liquid with some of the seafood stock that we’d made for the brodet itself. The substitution gives the polenta a nice sea-like flavor to it, which is always welcome by us.
Finally, we considered the cheese in the polenta to be an optional add since it’s not particularly part of a traditional polenta accompaniment to brodet. It is sure a delicious add, but it is entirely up to you whether or not you’d want to add it to your polenta.
In the end, though, between the polenta and the brodet, you have a stunning and well-balanced meal that is as quintessentially Dalmatian as you’ll find.
And now, you know some of the special tricks of the trade too.
How have you made brodet before? Comment below!
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- 1 heaping handful of fresh parsley (enough for 1 cup when chopped)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 15 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound monkfish steaks (or similar denser, firmer, meatier fish)
- 1 pound rockfish steaks (or similar flavorful, flaky fish)
- 1 pound hamachi steaks (or similar oily, emulsifying fish)
- ½ pound raw medium-sized shrimp
- ½ pound of mussels, washed
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 small leeks, the white and light green stalk parts halved and thinly sliced
- 2-3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine, preferably a sweeter kind
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 stalks fresh rosemary, chopped
- 4 cups fish stock or water
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups fish broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup polenta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a food processor, combine your fresh parsley, ½ cup olive oil, 4 cloves of garlic and lemon juice together. What will come out is a thick and rich puree
- In a large bowl, rub the puree into the fish, then place in the fridge and let marinate for at least 1 hour. You can't go wrong letting it marinate for longer, but 1 hour should be a good minimum
- Take a saucepot with the water, fish broth and salt for the polenta and bring the liquid to a boil
- Once boiling, add your polenta in and whisk vigorously through the water. Keep on high heat as the water begins to re-boil
- Immediately once the pot has begun boiling again, turn down the heat of the stove to the lowest possible simmer or setting
- Simmer the polenta for at least 45 minutes, whisking and mixing the polenta around as frequently as every 2-3 minutes
- After about 15 minutes of just cooking the polenta would be a good time to start with the brodet. Start by taking a big soup pot and put over high heat with your remaining olive oil
- Once the oil is hot, add your onion and the remaining 11 cloves of minced garlic. Sautee for 1 minute
- Next, add the leeks and sautee for another 2 minutes as the leek and onion start to sweat and soften
- As the leek and onion become gradually softer, add your tomatoes and tomato paste and mix vigorously through. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook together for another 2 minutes
- Once everything is well mixed and the tomatoes softened, add your red wine, the red wine vinegar, and the chili flakes
- Take your fish steaks out of the fridge and layer on top of the vegetables in the soup pot
- Once all the fish is in, then add your fish stock, bay leaves and rosemary into the pot
- Keep the soup pot uncovered and cooking on high heat for 15 minutes, but do not stir the pot. If you need to jostle the ingredients around, pick the soup pot by the side handles and give it a bit of a shake, but you don't want to disturb the ingredients all too much. Add more fish stock or water as needed to keep fish submerged in case of evaporation
- After about 15 minutes of the brodet cooking and bubbling, place your shrimp and mussels on top of all other ingredients and submerge in the broth. At this point, you can cover the soup pot for ~3-5 minutes to help cook the shellfish, although you can also leave uncovered
- After 5 minutes from when the shellfish was added, take your brodet off the heat and set aside for a moment
- By now, your polenta is ready to come off the heat. Take off heat and add your 2 tablespoons of butter
- As the butter melts and the polenta becomes creamy, finish by adding the asiago cheese to the polenta and whisking through as the cheese melts
- Serve your brodet with a side of polenta, and enjoy!