Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buoiabesh (Bujabiš)

Crown jewel presented before the time

When I started this blog, I planned for a great and loud finish with a piece on the Korculan recipe for buoiabesh (bouliabaisse). Since then I have learned that the recipe that I had in mind all this time may have been just a family variant of a regional dish. Its clout and magic for me, however, comes from the fact that it is the first dish I've ever cooked, and that I learned to cook it from my father; I am quite sure it was the only meal my father knew how to make.

I am on the airplane, returning from my home town in the old country after I said fairwell to my dad as he passed away from this world. He had a long and common life but it took stubborn persistence and many difficult and courageous decisions to keep it like that and to live it with pride. And, there was a price to be paid at each step. He was blessed with good health and strength for most of his life, but during the last couple of years he had very few good days.

The relationship I had with my father was similar to the father-child relatonships that other people my age had, in America. He was the provider and the final authority, but was still soft in his heart. His deeds spoke more to me than did his words.

My father married after he returned from the WWII. Although he faught on the winning side against fascism, he never joined the communist party that dominated the life of the people in my old country. He never got the chance to make up for the college years he missed while fighting the war, but he was a hard worker, and a gifted shipbuilder - he could hand traced the ship's building blocks better than a computer. He was the „proto“ or the leading master in traditional shipbuilding yards and a leader in industrial ship construction industry . He was an unflinching advocate for his fellow workers whom he thought all had the right to human dignity and deserved respectfull treatment.

My father was a workocholic. For him, you are not what you tell people you are but you are what you do and how well you do it. Each time he used a piece of wood to build a boat and each time he matched the rivets a steel sheet to bind the sides of a large ship, he did it with pride. Hours in the shipyard were not enough, he worked many after hours every day in his own workshop. He did not have much time to talk to me but he loved me dearly and watched over my development. I enjoid the opportunity to have untethered access to his library, a collection that exceeded far and beyond his formal educational level. Thanks to what I have learned from the way his actions are reflected in the lives of other people, he became my role model even though it was a rare occasion that he explicitely taught me anything. He seemed to prefer to shed some spotlight on a particular issue, let me think it through, and then leave me alone to decide how I feel about it.

He never had me practice any woodworking skills but he said: „ To get the job done you must always have proper tools, sharp tools. And your grip must be strong, your moves decisive. You must be in control, otherwise you will destroy the piece you are working on and you will get hurt.“ I learned also from the comments that were not aimed directly at me.

There was another side to my father, the joyfull one that he rarely had a chance to indulge: boating and fishing. Most Sundays he spent in the church since he was the chairmen of the Brotherhood of All Saints, a kind of union of carpenters and shipbuilders originating from the 13th century. On rare Sundays we would go to the nearby archipellago to sail and fish in a 12-footer he built for us by himself. He new all of the best fishing locations and we would usually come back with a load of colorfull and sweet rockfish. I most liked the days my mother went along with us. She would stay on the deserted beach to swim and sunbathe while we were out fishing. Once back, we would get the fire going to grill our catch for a quick lunch, and then we would set a pot  into the ashes of the fire, and on the heated rocks to cook the buoiabesh.

Recipe for bouiabesh

Two pounds of small, sweet, colorful rockfish: pirka, knez, donzela, lumbrak, vrana, kanjac, spar, fratar, skrpinic, drozd, smokva. Onions, tomatoes, potatoes, olive oil, black pepper, salt.


In a shallow pot (claypot works best) add olive oil so that it covers the bottom, approximately. Add a layer of sliced onion, followed by a layer of tomato, fish and potatoes. Repeat the layers untill all of the fish is used. Add a few black peppercorns and sprinkle with salt after each layer is placed. If you have aromatic grasses use them to your liking. Add the water so that it barely covers the layers.
Set the covered pot to cook in dying ashes and heated rocks while you enjoy a nice swim. In the late afternoon the best dinner you have every had will be ready to serve. If you are afraid of bees, take the uncovered pot home and have your bouiabesh there. Otherwise, expect clouds of bees from all the surrounding islets to join you for the feast.

I have tried many times, but have never succeded to cook this dish at home to my satisfaction. Slow cooking on the rocks under the burning sun makes all the difference.

1 comment:

  1. pozdrav iz dalmacije...look nice...nastavi samo tako dalje...

    ReplyDelete