Cooking under the bell

What Is Cooking Under the Bell and How Can Be Achieved in a Harrison Oven?

6 September 2020

On a recent trip to Croatia, we travelled to the tiny island of Mljet for some well-earned rest and also to check out a bit of traditional Croatian real fire cooking.

Cooking under the bell

Tavern Barba is one of only two restaurants in Prozura Luka – a beautiful, quiet bay that is home to only one other business - a boat-hire shop.

like us, our host, Ivan is passionate about only cooking with fire and introduced us to the traditional Balkan way of doing things, mainly ‘roasting under the bell’, which is how slow-cooking is done when you have the weather and a large outdoor, open fireplace/stone bbq area. This set-up is at the heart of every traditional Balkan household and is where families gather to prepare meals and spend quality time together.

What Is Cooking Under the Bell and How Can Be Achieved in a Harrison Oven?

The bell is originally called peka and is often used to slow-cook lamb or octopus (if near the sea), potatoes and other vegetables and bread. As with all real-fire cooking, food prepared this way has a really unique flavour, which is helped by the fact that the peka concentrates flavours and aromas under its top.

Food cooked ‘under the bell’ could be described as part roasted / part steamed and many households do still own bells for baking and prepare their food this way, but it’s usually saved for holidays and important events.

How It’s Done

Meat or fish is put in a large, shallow round baking pan. A little bit of oil is added, along with spices, and then the meat is covered with large domed clay or metal bell.

A fire is then on the board of the stone barbecue. When there is enough hot coal, the entire bell (with food inside) is put on it and cover the lid with some more hot coals, so that it is baked from under and above, so is using radiant heat, just like the charged stainless steel walls of a Harrison oven.

In the same way as food slow cooks in a Harrison, the meat slowly cooks in its own juices. After 45 minutes, vegetables are added, so they don’t get overcooked (meat takes more time to cook), but you can cook it all together (my family does it this way). Spare hot coals are kept on the side of the fireplace so that you can add more of them while it’s baking. Cooking time is usually 1.5 to 2 hours.

We tried the traditional lamb and vegetable dish and it was absolutely delicious. 

What Is Cooking Under the Bell and How Can Be Achieved in a Harrison Oven?

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 2.5 kg lamb meat
  • 1 kg potatoes
  • 2 × tomatoes
  • 1 apple
  • 2 × large onions
  • rosemary leaves
  • sea salt-to taste
  • 1 cup white wine or water
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil

Instructions

  1. Halve all vegetables and put everything together in a large cast-iron casserole dish and season with sea salt and oil.
  2. After a full service of using your Harrison at heats of 250ºC, simply place the dish in the middle of the oven and leave overnight. The ambient heat will slowly cook it for you over 6-8 hours as the oven cools.
  3. Go home to bed – wake up, get to your work kitchen and be greeted with the wonderful aroma of slow-cooked lamb and veg.

Alternatively, if you own a Harrison Icon, you can use the top chamber to slow cook your lamb and veg, while you carry on with service in your bottom chamber.