Catch of the Day

In a quiet fishing village in northern Croatia, a young chef is creating some of the most simple, divine fish dishes in Istria. He’s doing so in a small, modest tavern, cooking alongside his mother and mother-in-law, using the fish his father catches, and bringing the dishes to the tables himself. Sounds picture perfect to me.  Sort of like the streets of Burano, with their labyrinth of clean, cobblestoned streets, houses and boats splashed with a rainbow of vibrant colors. After leaving Venice and that charming island, I headed to Istria, the northernmost region in Croatia, about a 3 hour drive away. Some of you may recall a few highlights I shared last year, like my favorite port town Rovinj, zoo-like Brioni islands and a chocolate soufflé I have recreated here many times in Zürich. It worked out nicely that the chef’s chocolate of choice was Lindt – not too difficult to find here in Switzerland!

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

Having lunch at Batelina in Banjole (near Pula) was definitely another highlight. I spent 3 or 4 hours shuffling back and forth from the table to the kitchen to chat with David Skoko and follow his every move. I watched his mother Ada busy at work in the kitchen too, my lack of Croatian preventing me from asking her 101 questions. Those questions then went to Ingrid, his mother-in-law who spoke perfect English and had me laughing between questions, photographs and tastes. I crept outside to watch his father too, Danilo, revered as one of the best fishermen in Istria, who was cleaning the fish and crabs he had just caught a few hours earlier.

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

In a simple kitchen that wouldn’t be out of place in a Manhattan apartment for its limited size, the three of them worked together in perfect unison. David used his favorite Japanese Shun Lee knives to slice raw fish, then simply dress it with olive oil and salt. “To do anything with the freshest catch other than serving it raw would be a shame,” he explained to me.  He prepared the shrimp in the same manner, raw, delicately lined up on a dish, with a good pour of Istrian olive oil (below left).  The local oil was also used to marinate anchovies, to dress the mackerel and to cook the bonito (tuna).  Scallops, smaller than their French equivalent, were grilled and placed back in their shells in a small pool of warm oil (below right).  I watched Aleksandar, a local seated next to me, pick up the shell like that of an oyster, and drink the oil. Croatians appreciate their oil. Monkfish liver was seared and served alongside a sweet red onion marmalade (below, bottom left). Fish goulash, made with squid and spider crab was served with polenta molded in scallop shells for an excellent presentation (below, bottom right).

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

The day’s menu is created only once Danilo returns from fishing. Croatian restaurant laws require a written menu, but they don’t actually use it at Batelina. All you need to do is ask what Danilo caught that morning and you know you’ll be tasting the very freshest fish possible, like that crab, only available January to May. The one he showed me, below right, was clearly a female with its orange eggs.  Apparently they turn black once the season is over.  Danilo steamed the crabs in a big pot with just an inch of water. I could have eaten that all day; only problem is, if you fall in love with a dish, it may not be available for another 5 to 10 days.  All depends on the day’s catch.  And I did fall in love with many a dish there, including the handmade tagliatelle with crab meat and eggs.  And the conger eel mousse.  Oh, and the sardines fried with onions and white wine…

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

Difficult to say whether the simplicity and explosion of flavor in the crab above made it my favorite dish of the meal; I’m leaning towards David’s preparation of the red mullet.  Small filets were rolled up and dipped in sesame seeds on one side.  That side was placed on a super hot griddle and quickly seared. The other side remained raw, making for an extraordinary mix of textures and temperatures.  Set atop a wild radicchio cream sauce, with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the dish was masterful in its simplicity and sophistication.

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

After all of the above dishes, there was still the main course to come.  I watched Ingrid prepare the monkfish, not a very attractive fish I have to say, hence the absence of photo.  I told her she and David have the most wonderful job to work together as a family – and eat all of this extraordinary fish all the time. At that, she jumped up at me, “No! You know what we eat – mortadella (Italian pork sausage) and bread. We ate fish all the time when we first opened, but are now tired of it. It’s like people who work in a chocolate factory. If you did, you wouldn’t…” I’m not sure what she meant by that, as if I wouldn’t eat chocolate in that case. She clearly didn’t know who she was talking to !!

Speaking of which… you must be wondering what was for dessert? Ricotta cake, chocolate almond cake, mascarpone with figs in red wine, and last but not least, a creation of David’s we can all try to recreate in our own homes… his mini chocolate cakes with (Vodnjan) olive oil and chili (recipe below).  As you may know, I keep away from spice, but the chili here doesn’t really affect the tongue; it simply warms the throat.  David let me know if you have 4 or 5 though, the feeling will in fact last for 10 to 15 minutes. Who’s willing to try?

Batelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, CroatiaBatelina Restaurant, Istria, Croatia

Konoba Batelina
Cimulje 25
Banjole 52100
Croatia
+385.52.573.767

~

David Skoko’s Chocolate Chili Nibbles

2 red chili peppers, medium
10 1/2 oz (300 grams) dark chocolate*, chopped
10 1/2 tbsp (150 grams) butter
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (10 grams) cornstarch
1 tsp (4 grams) baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp (15-20 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 dl) olive oil

Preheat the oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Slice open the chili peppers and remove the seeds. Finely chop and put in a saucepan with the chocolate and butter. Melt together. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and gradually stir them into the melted chocolate mixture. Then slowly add the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add the cocoa powder and olive oil to the mixture, until you have a smooth, thick consistency (like pudding). Pour batter into a mini muffin tin and bake for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm.  Sprinkle generously with olive oil and chocolate sauce.

* David uses 75% Lindt chocolate

31 Responses to “Catch of the Day”

  1. Jenn says:

    omg I am drooling, it all looks so gorgeous and delicious!

  2. Tweets that mention Catch of the Day | MyKugelhopf -- Topsy.com says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kerrin Rousset, Travel News. Travel News said: Catch of the Day http://bit.ly/aylbOE […]

  3. Dominique (De vous à moi...) says:

    Merveilleux repas… des fruits de mer et du poisson tout frais pêchés: on se croirait en Bretagne!

  4. iain says:

    wow, absolutely mouth-watering! très soigné tout ça. on dirait que ça vaut le voyage…

  5. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    I love the sound of the chocolate cakes. Funny, Mr Mélanger baked brownies last night (with supervision, not that he needed it!) and he suggested putting chili in. LOL. We went plain chocolate, of course.

    Speaking of chocolate, yes, they clearly didn’t know who they were talking to in the chocolate stakes. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone else who loved chocolate, more than me!

    Love these images. Particularly the one with the fish being cut on crisp, white linen! That is bold. A great review, as always.

  6. Kerrin says:

    Jenn, oops better wipe that drool off your keyboard ! 😉

    Dominique, merci beaucoup ! Mais il faudrait du bon beurre salé au lieu de toute l’huile d’olive ci-dessus pour être en Bretagne ! Mmm, tu me fais rêver encore !

    iain, bah si, justement, ça vaut le voyage ! Et dis-donc j’ai trop envie d’y retourner là. On y va ?? 😉

    Julia, what a funny coincidence indeed. The chili certainly goes with your savory sweets theme right now too. How did the brownies come out ? Too funny about the chocolate comment to me for sure – and you picking up on the crisp white linen, ha ha ! Love it !

  7. Lani says:

    Fish is my number one favorite when it comes to eating…besides dessert! I really can’t decide which fish I would order. They all look so delicious but the crab and scallops certainly cry out to me. The fish all are so fresh and prepared with wonderful and creative ingredients. No vegetables because I would have no room for them! I am now totally hungry for dinner and it is only 8am! Thank you for sharing the catch of the day in Croatia where the water is clear and the fish keep on jumping.

  8. Amy says:

    Wow, that all looks incredible! I enjoyed Rovinj, but didn’t get to see much more of Istria, unfortunately. If I go back someday, I will definitely be stopping by this restaurant. How did you find it, by the way, and how do you ask to get in the kitchen for photos? I would have been too shy to attempt that, especially asking for a recipe! Very interesting post.

  9. brian says:

    question- for the chocolate chili nibbles, you mention the chilies need to be seeded, but, you don’t list them in the ingredient portion of your recipe??

  10. Kerrin says:

    Lani, oh my goodness, what an excellent point – there were no vegetables ! ha ha ! I don’t even think we took note of that, we were all so taken away by the fish. But hey, better off – more room for more fish… and dessert ! 🙂

    Amy, thanks so much. My trip to Istria last year was organized by the Istrian tourist board, so they had planned the entire itinerary, including this extraordinary lunch at Batelina, thankfully. I love talking to chefs or waiters when I am at a restaurant – if they are friendly and approachable that is – it makes the experience so much richer. The Skoko family was great. And I wasn’t even “in” the kitchen, just peeking over the counter in fact !

    brian, the first item in the recipe above are 2 medium red chili peppers. If you make the mini cakes, let us know how it goes… and enjoy !

  11. Hester Borm says:

    It still looks (and probably tastes) as devine as it did two years ago. What made you decide to go back?

  12. Nomadic Chick says:

    Agreed. I am drooling along with the others. Fresh seafood, there’s nothing like it!

  13. Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels says:

    It all sounds heavenly! being born and raised in Sardinia, I have a special place in my heart for all kinds of seafood, but I have to admit that crab meat is one of my favorites. I have a recipe for crabmeat pasta sauce with is lovely but I never use it because my husband doesn’t eat seafood, the mountain man 😉

    Glad you are having such a wonderful time!

  14. apranzoconbea says:

    I only had dinner once and many many years ago in Batelina. Great place, lovely food and family attitude. Skoko people rulz!

  15. Emma says:

    Ova heah in Maine I had a lobsta dinna last night. But that couldn’t hold a candle to the deliciousness I see above! I love chunky pasta so the tagliatelle and crab meat looks best right now. But honestly, I’d love to sit down to a meal with twelve plates filled with seafood.

    How can I get a job like yours? If this is a trade secret then by all means keep it secret, keep it safe. Do I need a background in communications or can I infiltrate the castle that is Your Job just by sheer will?

  16. Kerrin says:

    Hester, it does feel like a long time ago, but that was only last year, not 2 years ago ! I haven’t been back unfortunately, but ooh would I love to return !

    Elisa, I would love to go to Sardinia one day and taste all the seafood there, never been. And crab is one of my absolute favorites too. That’s too bad that your husband doesn’t like seafood, oh gosh, all he’s missing out on ! 😉

    apranzoconbea, I agree – the Skoko family were wonderful and that made this divine meal that much more enjoyable.

    Emma, mmm Maine lobster, oh that is definitely something I could go for. You’re lucky too, you know ! 🙂 No trade secrets in fact (even though you did make me laugh out loud, as you do with all of your awesome comments), just a press trip for food bloggers to discover the Istria region in Croatia. So… looks like it’s time for you to start a food blog !!

  17. Emma says:

    Yes, this was going to be my next question for you, I forgot to ask before. Perfect segue. I am unhappy with the ugliness of prefabricated, albeit free, blogging websites, hence why I haven’t provided a website to link to mine (it’s so embarrassingly ugly in comparison to yours!). I would like to venture into the domain of… well my own domain, I guess. But I know very little about website creation. Do you have any recommendations for website software/shareware?

  18. Melanie@TravelsWithTwo says:

    Oh, the torture…and just two days after I’ve abandoned my gorgeous itinerary in Croatia!

    Well, no matter, I’ve just bookmarked this stunning post; thanks to you, when we finally DO get to Istria, we’ll be heading straight to Batelina to stuff our faces with seafood and ricotta cake. 🙂

    In case I don’t tell you enough, you’re really, really, really lucky to live in Europe…

  19. Daniel@CocinaSavant says:

    I can’t say which dish would taste best since they all look so appetizing with the range of delicate to robust. What a spectacular opportunity. Great post and pictures.

  20. Katie@Cozydelicious says:

    What incredible photos… what incredible food! Truly beautiful presentation, I love all of those shells as serving dishes. You’ve inspired me… I’m looking at flights right now!

  21. catty says:

    HELLO!!! It was sooooo nice to see you today 🙂 I wish I could have stuck around and chattered to you and Hilda longer – turned out my dinner got cancelled last minute *ARGH* but anyhoos, stay in touch and dude all that seafood made me drool a little. I love crab and look at that roe. YUM. xx

  22. Andrea says:

    How do you find these places? You are a walking Michelin Guide.

  23. jen laceda says:

    I am in love with post…oh the seafood!

  24. Kerrin says:

    Emma, I am definitely not the pro at the technical side of blogging. (Sorry) But I can say that I do use WordPress and it is very user-friendly. There are SO many websites out there, with people sharing info, giving advice, step by step guides. Worth doing some research online to answer your questions. That’s what I did. You do realize I am going to be forever curious about your website now though, right ?!

    Melanie, no worries about changing your travel itinerary, I know you have something even more exciting on tap. Funny timing though with my post here. And you’ll get to Istria one day, Batelina too… and perhaps even Zurich !!

    Daniel, thanks so much ! There definitely was an amazing variety on that table, wish I could do it again.

    Katie, so… do you have your tickets booked yet to Croatia ?! 😉

    catty, it was *fantastic* to hang with you in London – wish you knew about those canceled plans earlier 🙁 Totally staying in touch. And let’s meet up soon for a crab dinner !! 🙂

    Andrea, unfortunately I can’t take credit for discovering this restaurant. I had an excellent source … the Istria tourist board !! 😉

    jen, thanks mon amie ! We need to meet up and have a seafood feast one day… seriously.

  25. Peanut Butter and Jealous! says:

    Oh crab, fresh crab! Can any dish really go wrong with crab as the star ingredient?! Looks like you had an amazing time! I wonder if you might give you mind a little challenge and try to recreate one of those delectable crab dishes so those of us who aren’t lucky enough to make it there will get to try it at home? 🙂

  26. El says:

    Gorgeous…gorgeous food.

  27. Anne's Kitchen says:

    Kerrin! My future Luxembourg resident! It was delightful to meet you last weekend! I will keep you posted about a future Luxembourg trip, then I can show you all the delight that small town has to offer and maybe get us to tour the chocolate factory! Kerrin and the Chocolate Factory – would definitely make for an interesting story, although I doubt they have any Oompa Lumpas there! Maybe a luxembourgish version…
    xx

  28. Mowie @ Mowielicious says:

    Do you think he knows the difference between plaice and sole? =)

    So nice seeing you over the weekend my darling, such a shame that it wasn’t for nearly long enough. I know that Hilda is planning to adopt you but do you think B and I can adopt you too? We can share custody with Hilda.

    Btw, I love Anne’s comment above: Kerrin and the Chocolate Factory! Brilliant!

    Missing you loads honey xxx

  29. Delishhh says:

    I just found your blog and let me tell you it is great. You talk about food and travel my two favorite things. And the layout is so cute. I love it! You have a new follower.

  30. Kerrin says:

    Peanut Butter and Jealous, oh I am so with you – crab is one of those key words that when I see on the menu, I order whatever dish it’s in ! I’d love to recreate any or all of these dishes for dinner here, yum at the thought of it. A lot of them are simple preparations, but perhaps I can get a special tip or two from the chef. Stay tuned…

    El, thank you so much !

    Anne, it was fabulous meeting you, my Luxembourg friend ! Do keep me posted on your trip home, and HELLO – Kerrin & the Chocolate Factory – that’s a must !! Oh I love it !! 🙂

    Mowie, I laughed out loud at the plaice/sole comment. [Note to readers: reference to a “mixup” in a restaurant in London. NOT the same fish, not the same price.] It was wonderful seeing you as well and we’ll have to plan more time together soon. Good luck sharing custody with Hilda ! ha ha !

    Delishh, I’m so glad you discovered MyKugelhopf ! Thanks for the great comment, thrilled you share my passions for food and travel. Hope you’ll continue to enjoy 🙂

  31. john@heneedsfood says:

    Hi Kerrin, love your work. Just dropping a line to let you know I’m about to make the Chocolate chilli nibbles. They sound divine! I’ll link up when I’ve posted it on my site. Also, it was reading about Istria here that changed my future holiday plans to going back to Croatia, rather than Nepal. I was in Croatia almst 10 years ago and now yearn to go back.

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