Arambašići is a speciality from the town of Sinj in the Dalmatian hinterland. The dish is clearly Turkish or Middle Eastern in origin, but the use of pork in this version makes it very Croatian. The town of Sinj was on the border of the Ottoman Empire and has changed hands several times during its turbulent history. On 25 September 1686, the Croatians and Venetians liberated Sinj from Turkish rule. I’m proud to say that the first flag put on the Sinj fortress that day was a Saint George flag from my ancestral village of Gata, once the centre of the proud Poljička Republika (an independent Croatian state at that time). The Turks must have left their arambašići still warm on the stove, and the Croatians took a liking to the dish, as it is still prepared in Dalmatia to this day. To make tasty arambašići you need to have good-quality sauerkraut. I have suggested making your own, but if you buy store-bought, make sure it’s a quality product. Serve it as a main course with some mashed potato.
- 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) beef (neck or chuck steak)
- 150 g (5-1/2 oz) pancetta
- 50 g (1-3/4 oz) beef fat (from the butcher)
- 200 g (7 oz) pork meat (neck or shoulder)
- 2 large brown onions, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1/4 nutmeg
- 300 g (10-1/2 oz) preserved vine leaves
- 200 g (7 oz) Sauerkraut
- 1 tablespoon lard
- 200 g (7 oz) smoked pork ribs
- 50 g (1-3/4 oz) prosciutto (optional), cut into 1 cm (1/2 in) slices (optional)
- 100 g (3-1/2 oz) dried goat (if you can’t find it use extra pork ribs) (optional)
- 400 ml (13-1/2 fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Using a large knife or cleaver, chop the beef, pancetta, beef fat and pork into small pieces – it will taste much better if you chop it by hand, instead of mincing (grinding) it.
- Put the chopped meat in a large bowl. Add the onion, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and grate over the nutmeg. Mix well with your hands for a few minutes.
- Separate the vine leaves and rinse them with water. Rinse the sauerkraut.
- Place a vine leaf on a work surface and place a tablespoon of the meat mixture in the centre. Fold up the sides and roll into a tight parcel. Repeat with the remaining vine leaves.
- Put the lard in the bottom of a clay pot or heavy-based saucepan, then add a layer of sauerkraut. Add a layer of arambašić, placed tightly next to each other. Add some more sauerkraut and the smoked pork ribs – you can add the prosciutto and dried goat for more flavour, if desired. Add another layer of arambašići then add more sauerkraut on top. Cover with chicken stock and cook over low heat for 3–4 hours, shaking the pan occasionally and adding more stock if needed.
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Cover courtesy of Hardie Grant Books
Excerpted with permission from Dalmatia by Ino Kuvačić, published by Hardie Grant Books May 2017, RRP $40.00 hardcover.