What is cooking under the bell? How it can be achieved in a Harrison Charcoal Oven?
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.
WHAT IS ‘UNDER THE BELL’ COOKING
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 get gather to prepare meals and spend quality time together.
The bell is originally called peka and 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 / park 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, 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 fire place so that you can add more of it 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.
HOW TO DO IT IN A HARRISON OVEN
This traditional Balkan recipe has been adapted to be created in a Harrison Oven. We recommend it is slow cooked overnight after service, so that your Harrison is still working for you as you sleep!
· 2.5 kg lamb meat
· 1 kg potatoes
· 2 x tomatoes
· 1 apple
· 2 x large onions
· rosemary leaves
· sea salt-to taste
· 1 cup white wine or water
· 5 tbsp sunflower oil
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 250 degrees C, simply place the dish in the middle of the oven and leave over night. 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.