Each day during my stay in the coastal village of Vodice, Croatia, I made the walk to a small restaurant facing the Adriatic Sea. Outside tables sat on the sidewalk with broad umbrellas sheltering me from the afternoon sun while partaking in a leisurely lunch. I wanted the views of the water and the sun, but always attempted to be seated by the restaurant’s door simply to catch the amazing aromas from within as they wafted through the open entrance.
On the first day, my waiter, an open and friendly fellow, highly recommended I begin my meal with a bowl of Brudet, a local fish stew served in a bed of soft polenta. When the dish arrived, I was able to discern one of the aromas emitting from the restaurant was indeed this stew. By the time I was half way through the bowl, I asked my waiter if the chef would be willing to discuss the stew’s ingredients. The waiter smiled, nodded and quickly disappeared inside. He soon returned and, to my surprise, took a chair at my table. Smiling, he said “I am the chef. You have questions concerning the preparation of the Brudet?” I gained a friend that day. Few people had ever requested an audience with him concerning his dishes. Luka spent a week demonstrating the sourcing and cooking methods of traditional Croatian dishes, sharing family tales and serving as a “tour guide” of Croatia.
Luka’s Brudet came straight from his Uncle (Tetak) Aloiz who had married his father’s sister, Ella. He was a fourth or more generation of fishermen from the village of Sepurine on the island of Prvic along the Dalmatian Coast. Since Ella had not been raised with Brudet as a staple dish, Aloiz took it upon himself to be the cooker of Brudet in the house. Every day, late morning, when he returned to the harbor, he would select three varieties of fish from the day’s catch. Then acquire mussels and shrimp from his fellow fishermen and make the winding walk home. Ella prepared the onion and tomato base while Aloiz cleaned and prepared the fish and seafood.
Luka recalled enjoying this dish every day during his summer “vacations” at their home. Even as a child, though, he recognized there was a slight taste variation each day. It was not until he became a chef that he understood it was the interaction of the various fish since each day presented a new combination based on the catch of the day.
In his restaurant, Luka prepared a large pot of Brudet each day using the same methods as his Uncle Aloiz. And each day, the stew had a slight variation in flavor all dependent on the catch of the day.
This recipe for Brudet follows the methods taught by Luka and, indeed, each time it is prepared the flavor varies slightly based on the three fish varieties I happen to find at the fish counter on that particular day. Be selective with the fish. Stay with saltwater fish when possible. Any three fish can be used but stay away from using salmon because of the strong flavor.
Prepared in one pot, this dish is easily prepared. However, to quote Luka “Never stir! Always shake!” The fish and seafood is distributed by shaking the pot back and forth to ensure the fish chunks do not flake apart.
After much experimenting with stew versions and seasoning, this version also adds a bit of saffron for the heady aroma it produces.
The polenta becomes polenta shards rather than a bed of soft polenta. Continuing with the saffron flavor and aroma, a few threads of saffron are added towards the middle of the cooking time.
1 ½ – 2 pounds total of 3 types of seawater fish fillets such as cod, ocean perch, haddock, halibut, red snapper; skinned
¾ pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
¾ pound mussels, scrubbed, discarding any which are open or cracked
½ c + 1 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
¾ c parsley, chopped
10 garlic cloves, minced fine, divided
½ t kosher salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 cup dry white wine such as Nickel & Nickel Chardonnay Truchard Vineyard, 2014 (be sure to pour yourself a glass of this great wine to sip while cooking)
1 (14 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1-2 c seafood broth
6 threads Saffron
1 c corn meal or polenta meal
3 c water
8 threads Saffron
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter, unsalted
Remove any visible skin from the fish fillets.
Cut fish into 1 inch size chunks.
In a gallon sized re-sealable plastic bag, place ½ cup olive oil, parsley, 7 garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Add fish. Carefully toss fish to distribute marinade. Place in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours (no longer than 2 hours) while preparing polenta and beginning stew foundation.
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 c water to a boil over medium high heat. In a small bowl, whisk together corn meal and remaining cup of water. Turn heat to medium and while water is simmering, slowly stir in the corn meal whisking continuously to prevent clumping.
Continue to stir mixture with a wooden spoon for 15 – 30 minutes to cook until thickened. Add the saffron at the 10 minute mark. When mixture becomes difficult to stir, cook an additional 3-4 minutes to increase thickness. Remove from heat.
Brush a medium sized bread ban with olive oil. Pour polenta into pan and smooth. Cover and place in freezer for 30 minutes.
Place 1tablespoon olive oil in large pot. Add onions and remaining garlic. Sauté over medium heat until soft transparent, about 5-7 minutes. Do not brown.
Add tomatoes, tomato puree and wine. Bring to a simmer. Remove two-thirds of the tomato mix to a medium bowl.
Remove fish from marinade and place half in remaining tomato mix. Include whatever garlic and parsley adhered to the fish. Add half the shrimp. Cover with half of the reserved tomato mix. Add the remaining fish and shrimp. Cover with remaining tomato mix. Pour enough seafood broth to ensure the fish and shrimp are covered. Do not cover pot. Bring to a slow simmer over medium heat and cook 15 minutes periodically shaking the pot to distribute the fish.
Pour enough seafood broth to ensure the fish and shrimp are covered. Do not cover pot. Bring to a slow simmer over medium heat and cook 15 minutes periodically shaking the pot to distribute the fish.
Add mussel, shake pot to distribute. Cook an additional 5-6 minutes, shaking periodically. Discard any mussels that do not open.
While stew is cooking, place 1tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium high heat. Remove polenta from freezer and turn pan upside down on cutting board. Slice polenta into ¼ inch slices.
Place slices in the skillet and cook until browned on each side, about 4-5 minutes each side.
Remove to cutting board.
Fill bowls with stew evenly distributing mussels.
Add polenta shards and serve. May be served hot or cold.
Letting this stew sit for one day increases the flavor. To serve carefully warm in a large pot. Again, shaking during heating.