I’m doubting that in 925 AD King Tomislav (unknown - 928 AD) looked upon his newly formed nation of Croatia and smiled, knowing that his people’s progeny would go on to glory on the fields of battle in a far off land some eleven hundred years in the future, but I didn’t know the guy. Maybe he did.
Whether he knew it or not, that’s what happened. Croatian descendant Nick Saban (1951 - present AD), as we all well know, has dominated the college ranks since his arrival in the SEC. Since 2006, only 2008 has seen an AFC Championship without Bill Belichick (1952 - present AD) on one sideline or another. Belied by his seeming rejection of the necktie, his ancestral nation’s sartorial gift to the world, he too has Croatian blood coursing through his veins. Only three football coaches have won both an NCAA championship and a Super Bowl. The only active member of that club is Pete Carroll (1951 - present AD), Croatian.
It’s a tiny little horseshoe of the Continent, roughly three thousand square miles bigger in area than Alabama, but Croatia managed to insert itself into European politics and has produced some notable leaders. A little history foreshadows what Nick Saban has done at Alabama.
Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-312 AD) hailed from Dalmatia, a province that would eventually become part of the modern nation. He inherited an empire on the verge of collapse but through bureaucratic innovations and imposition of structure on an inefficient government Rome thrived under his reign and endured for a hundred years after. Sound familiar?
Under Diocletian the size of the army increased from three hundred and ninety thousand troops in 285 AD to five hundred and eighty thousand by the end of his reign. On his watch the navy swelled by twenty thousand men. It has been estimated that one in twenty-five eligible male Roman subjects were members of the military when he took power. When he stepped down, a rare voluntary retirement, that number was one in fifteen. The aforementioned Tomislav, ruling a much smaller population than any Roman Emperor, is said to have one hundred thousand foot soldiers and sixty thousand cavalry under his command to variously give what for to Bulgarians and Hungarians. In addition he had a fleet of one hundred ships and many smaller vessels at his disposal. Can Croatians recruit or what?
So in honor of the tenth anniversary of Saban’s arrival at the Universary of Alabama, the results (thus far) of which have been catalogued by Erik here. (I should mention here that Erik’s list of Saban’s achievements in ten years at Alabama would be considered the boast of most programs were they to list the same over their entire football history.) I’ve concocted a version of a classic - the classic if you believe some sources - Croatian meal.
“Peku” directly means cooking under a metal bell shaped cover in a wood fired oven and the process is used for everything from baking to roasting to braising, but has become shorthand for the type of recipe that follows. Most people in Alabama have neither bell nor wood fired oven so I’ve altered the process and timing from the seven or eight recipes I consulted to work with a Dutch oven or other large, covered, and oven proof pan.
Lamb and Chicken Peka
4-5 chicken drumsticks
2 lamb shoulder steaks (1 ½ lbs.) cut into 4 -5 pieces
2 sprigs rosemary, minced
1 handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp. spicy paprika
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsps. animal fat (bacon, shortening, etc.) plus one tbsp. held back just in case
salt & pepper to taste
Vegetables - Use any combination and any number you please. This is home cooking and the rule for home cooking is use what is at hand. From what I’ve read it traditionally has potato, squash, onion, and bell pepper, but I’ve seen recipes that vary wildly in what they include. Below is what I decided on. If you don’t want to mimic my version, I’d recommend you pick at least four different veggies for color, flavor, and variety.
1 yellow onion, roughly cut
2 carrots, roughly cut
1 bell pepper, deseeded and roughly cut
1 tomato, deseeded and roughly cut
1 russet potato, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 squash, cut into coins and halved
6-7 button mushrooms, destemmed and quartered
1 leek, white part only, halved and sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly cut
Put 2 tbsps. animal fat/shortening (I used duck fat because I had some on hand) in your Dutch oven/large sauce pan over medium high heat. Salt the chicken and lamb and brown in the fat, about two to three minutes per side.
Once browned, remove the meats and add the potatoes and rosemary. If the pan looks dry, add the extra tbsp. of fat. Stir and coat. Return the lamb and chicken to pan, putting them atop the potatoes rather than in contact with the pan itself.
Cover and bake in an oven preheated to 400˚ for thirty minutes. In the meantime combine all your vegetables in a bowl with a few glugs of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and both paprikas and toss well.
After thirty minutes, pull the covered pan from the oven and add the vegetable mixture. Toss well, cover, and return to the oven for ten more minutes, remove, add the wine, cover, and back in the oven for ten more minutes.
After the final ten minutes, pull the pan and with a knife, check to see that the chicken is cooked properly. If not return to the oven and check every few minutes, but it should be just fine in the prescribed time.
Spoon vegetables into a bowl and top with chicken and lamb. I like it with some crusty bread and sharp cheese like Welsh or Irish cheddar and some Rhone wine, but it’s awesome with beer and more beer.
Tickets for the CFP Championship Game start around eleven hundred dollars, so it’s not absurd to think that a few of you reading might be attending. If you are going, sorry I didn’t give you a grill ready tailgate recipe for Monday, but my suspicion is that you didn’t pack a grill in your carry on and will be taking your meals at one of the recommended venues.
This week’s recipe is for the home cook. Now that lamb is available year round it’s a hearty and winter worthy venture. Channel the Croatian spirit of Belichick, Carroll, Diocletian, Tomislav, Scott Bakula, and most importantly, Nick Saban as you watch Jonathan Allen do hateful Jonathan Allen things and pray that our pleas of RTDBS are heard.
Clemson, despite their non-Croatian head coach, is very good, and we get to play them. This is fun. It’s what we have been waiting for. These are the good old days.
Enjoy. No injuries. Roll Tide.