Slow Food “Pečenje pod Vrshnik” and Fast Food “Skara”
Restaurants serving great “skara’ (grilled meats) can be found all throughout Macedonia. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my “fast food” whether pleskavica (ground meat patty with onions and spices, modern version has cheese inside), kebapčinja, kremenadli (pork chops), rebra (ribs), uvijač (chicken or pork cutlet stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, raznjiči (meat skewers), dzigerica (liver), suvi vrat (smoked pork neck), and the list goes on!
But I also really enjoy slow food and spending a great time with friends. The original Macedonian method of cooking (outdoors and indoors) is slow food the traditional way. Modern grilling features heat at the bottom of the grill. This traditional method of baking, “pečenje pod vršnik” (vrshnik), meaning “under the vrshnik”, features embers or coals also being placed on top of the grill as well as the bottom. This allows for better distribution of heat and more thorough and efficient cooking.
There 4 main components of the traditional Macedonian Vrshnik are:
1). Pirustija (Пирустија), the stand,
2). Crepna (Црепна), the bottom or pan,
3) Vrshnik (Вршник) the cover or lid and
4). Masha (Маша) the tongs used to remove the vrshnik and to place coals on top.
The setup is very similar to a normal campfire, placing the satnd over some coals, then the bottom with the ingredients (usually in a separate pan) and the then cover. As the heat on top of the grill will dissipate faster, you will want to place more embers on top than you have at the bottom. A good ratio to use is 2 to 1. Meaning, have twice as many coals on top of the grill than what’s on the bottom. To make the embers for placing on top of the grill, we made a separate wood fire and use iron tongs to transfer the embers.
This method of slow cooking is great for meats, fish, pies, bread and vegetables. For this occasion we gather at the mountain getaway of Stanka and Djoko who prepared wild rabbit with potatoes, carrots and onions. The meat literally falls off the bone, is tender and juicy, and the potatoes are full of flavor. On a previous occasion they prepared a delicious “Turli Tava” (without the clay pot) in the cast-iron pot. Turli Tava, a traditional Macedonian dish made in a clay pot (tava) is a vegetable and meat stew, normally more vegetables than meat. “Turli” is Turkish in origin and means “mixed” and a turli tava will normally feature a blend of the following: okra, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, olive oil, spices and normally two types of meat; pork, beef, or lamb.
So break out the slow food! Begin with some meze (shopska salata, hot peppers) with some rakija, have a great time with friends and then slowly transcend into something prepared on the Macedonian Vrshnik with some red wine. Prijatno!