“The fireplace is the heart of the home in Croatia and the traditional one-pot dish (the peka) takes pride of place. The domed lid on the top of the peka creates a seal that keeps whatever is cooked underneath moist and juicy but lets just enough smokiness in. It intensifies the heat, seals in the juices and creates a depth of flavour that makes meat, seafood and vegetables taste wonderful.” Maeve O’Meara, Food Safari Fire
- 2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) medium- sized octopus
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup) light extra-virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 10 French shallots
- 4 large carrots, quartered lengthwise
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 6 small rosemary sprigs
- 250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup) dry white wine
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Start the wood-fired oven at least 1½ hours beforehand to ensure a cooking temperature of at least 350°C (660°F).
To clean the octopus, use a small knife to carefully cut between the head and tentacles of the octopus, just below the eyes. Grasp the body of the octopus and push the beak out and up through the centre of the tentacles with your finger. Cut the eyes from the head of the octopus by slicing a small disc off with a sharp knife. Discard the eye section. To clean the octopus head, carefully slit through one side and scrape out any gut from inside. Rinse under running water to remove any remaining grit.
Once cleaned, use some tongs to lower the octopus into a pot of barely simmering water and simmer for approximately 20–25 minutes. Remove, drain and cut into quarters. (Simmering helps with the tenderisation process and also removes water from the body of the octopus. If you do not remove the latent water in the octopus, the dish will become more like a stew.)
Combine the garlic with 150 ml (5 fl oz) of the oil and set aside.
Line the bottom of the peka pan with the potatoes and drizzle with the remaining oil. Add the French shallots, carrots and octopus. Season liberally with about 1½ tablespoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, and drizzle over the garlic oil. Squeeze over the juice of a ½ lemon and garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Cover the pan with the dome-shaped peka lid. The temperature at the base of the wood-fired oven should be at least 250°C (480°F), while the temperature at the roof of the oven should be approximately 350°C (660°F).
After 45 minutes, pull out the peka, remove the lid and turn over the octopus, potatoes, carrots, garlic and shallots with a large spoon. Pour over the white wine and return the pan with the peka lid back into the oven.
Cook for a further 30 minutes. If you find that the liquid in the peka has evaporated more than you like, add a little more oil and white wine to remoisten.
Remove the peka from the oven and squeeze over the remaining lemon juice before serving.
Recipe from Food Safari Fire by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55). Photography by Kaily Koutsogiannis.