Traditional Croatian Fish Stew: Sea Vs Land

Katarina Anđelković

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croatian fish stew

October 10, 2023 – There are almost 4 million people living in Croatia, and probably just as many recipes for the traditional Croatian fish stew. The dish is ubiquitous – one of the core meals on a family menu, and one of the true no-brainers for any gathering. It is so important that there are competitions, events, and festivals staged around it, and it’s part of almost every holiday or celebration.

Due to its geographical position and cultural heritage, there are two main types of Croatian fish stew – as prepared by the sea (in Dalmatia and Istria) and as prepared inland (most famously in Slavonia and Baranja).

With Mediterranean influence along the coast, the Dalmatian/Istrian fish stew is known as brudet or brodet, and some of its key ingredients include fresh seafood, olive oil, and white wine. Inland Croatia, on the other hand, has been heavily influenced by the Hungarian heritage and its famous paprika. Mild or spicy, good-quality, fragrant paprika is essential for the Slavonian fish stew, also known as fiš paprikaš, which is prepared using freshwater fish. What both types have in common is that the fish must be fresh, and the company must be in a good mood.

Croatian Brudet/Brodet

Every Mediterranean country has a version of the brodetto or bourdeto. The base of fresh sea fish and wine is usually similar, and the add-ons (like chorizo in Spain) vary. While white fish is the top choice, the beauty of this dish lies in the fact that any saltwater fish can be used.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • 1 kg of saltwater fish (feel free to use several kinds) – cut into steaks
  • a few big shrimp (optional)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 500 g canned tomatoes (fillets)
  • 200 ml white wine
  • dash of olive oil
  • 500 ml water
  • fresh parsley
  • salt, pepper, Mediterranean spices (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (optional)

As Putni Kofer writes, there are two ways to prepare it.

The first is to layer all the ingredients: olive oil, finely chopped onions and garlic, tomatoes, fish, and other seafood; add the wine and enough water to cover it all, vinegar if you like a little kick, salt and pepper, and other spices if desired. Place on a high fire until it starts boiling, then turn it down and let simmer for an hour. Leave the pot uncovered. The trick is to never stir and simply shake the pot if you feel like you need to mix up the ingredients a little.

The other way is the same process step by step. Start by sauteing the onions in a little bit of olive oil; add the garlic and parsley once the onions have softened, followed by the tomatoes. Layer your fish on top, cover with wine and water, add spices, and leave to cook for about an hour.

Brudet is traditionally served with polenta, which you can prepare according to instructions. When serving the fish, just make sure the pieces stay whole.

Fiš Paprikaš

Over to Slavonia and Baranja! In eastern Croatia, the fish stew is made with freshwater fish, most commonly carp, catfish, or perch; or all at once. And though the rest of the ingredients are quite similar to what is used for brudet, the results are very different. The culprit (other than the home of the fish) – smoked paprika.

  • 1 kg of freshwater fish (feel free to use several kinds) – cut into steaks
  • 1/2 kg onions
  • 200 ml white wine
  • dash of oil
  • 1 l water
  • salt, peppercorns, smoked paprika
  • fresh whole chili peppers (optional)
Aljmaška ribarska noć
Aljmaška ribarska noć

Much like it’s saltwater counterpart, the preparation of the eastern Croatian fish stew starts with finely chopping the onions. Sautee those, add some salt, peppercorns and smoked paprika, fresh chili peppers if you like, and cover with about one liter of water. Let that boil for about 10 minutes, before adding the fish and wine. Cook for about 45 minutes. Again – do not stir, shake if necessary. The traditional vessel for fiš paprikaš is a special hanging pot over an open fire. Not only does the dish take on an umami smoky note, but the motion helps mix up the flavours as well.

Fiš paprikaš is usually served with pasta, preferably freshly made.

As per Croatian tradition, there is an ongoing debate on which version of the fish stew is better – brudet or fiš paprikaš. Settling it, as you can imagine, is impossible, but there have been attempts. Our favourite is Ribarska noć, or Fishermen’s Night in Aljmaš.


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