Kačamak or Bakardan, with spicy pork crackling crumb, crumbly white cheese and yoghurt. Kačamak is the Balkan polenta, a sort of corn porridge. Imagine yourself in a cosy wooden cabin, incredible views of snow covered peaks, a crisp (freezing!) but beautifully sunny winter’s day, the freshest mountain air. You’ve just had the best sleep, perhaps ever. This is your breakfast, made with homemade pork fat, and served with the freshest white mountain cheese and yoghurt. Simple, honest, hearty, and incredibly filling, you are ready for a day of mountaineering, or skiing or just general frolicking in the snow. This is my ultimate winter “mountain” dish which will always taste best eaten in fresh mountain air, but also brings a little bit of winter sunshine to our home in London.
The name “kačamak” is derived from the Turkish word for “escape”. I have often wondered about the origin of the name – is it because it would have been made by rebels hiding in the mountains and evading capture by Ottoman soldiers? It is also known as bakardan in North Macedonia (after the Bakardan peak of the Shar mountains). It is also sometimes referred to as “pura”. In Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania, you can also find a version of kačamak made with potatoes and a little bit of maize flour, which I believe was born out of necessity (when maize, or any, flour would have been scarce). This is called “tučenjak” meaning having been beaten or pounded, because like making the kačamak itself, the potatoes and maize flour cooked together are then beaten until smooth which requires some serious arm muscle. In Montenegro, I have also eaten a version of kačamak layered with cheese and scrambled eggs. There is also something called “cicvara” where the maize flour is cooked with milk (and sometimes kajmak). In Serbia, it is often served with any number of delicious smoked meats or lard (slanina), pork crackling and kajmak.
As always with Balkan food, there are infinte regional variants of this dish. There is, however, one constant, you need maize/corn flour (not polenta, as this is too coarsely ground for this dish), pork fat and water to make the kačamak itself. The rest is really up to you. It can be eaten with any combination of cheese, yoghurt, pork crackling (cvarci/cvarki/cvarke), smoked meat, lard, kajmak (savoury clotted cream). You can also have a sweet version, topped with walnuts, cinnamon, sugar or honey, and milk.
My preferred way of eating it is with white cheese and yoghurt, but I thought it would be fun to try it with a non-traditional pork crackling crumb which is completely optional. The pork crackling is chopped finely and rendered down further until even crispier and flavoured with pul biber, chilli flakes, and black pepper. It worked beautifully.
Hope you enjoy!
350 g maize/corn flour
750 ml – 1 litre water
100 g pork fat, lard, butter, margerine or oil
50 g pork crackling (cvarki/cvarci/cvarke) or pancetta or smoked bacon
1 tsp pul biber or Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Salt + black pepper, to taste
- Bring water to the boil in a medium saucepan and add salt to taste (as a guide I use about 1/2 tbsp sea salt to 1 litre of water). When the water comes to the boil, reduce the heat so the water is gently simmering and add half your pork fat/lard. You can, of course, substitute this for butter, margarine or oil. Melt the rest of the lard in a saucepan and set aside.
- When the lard is melted in the water, add your maize flour so you are forming almost a “lid” of flour over the simmering water. Do not stir. Once you have added all the flour, with the handle of a wooden spoon, make 3-4 holes in the flour “lid”, allowing water to gently simmer through the holes. Cook for at least 20 minutes. If water isn’t bubbling through the holes in the flour, top up with a little more water.
- Meanwhile, prepare your pork crackling crumb. Chop the pork crackling finely. Place in a small shallow pan over a medium heat and render. Add the pul biber, chilli (if using), black pepper and a little salt to taste. Crisp to your desired consistency but take care not to burn. You can substitute the pork crackling for pancetta or smoked bacon – just chopped finely and sauteed until crisp. Set aside.
- Return to the kačamak. When there is no dry flour left in the saucepan (the water has seeped through over the maize flour lid), you can start stirring. Again, this is best done with the handle of a wooden spoon. This will require some arm muscle. Stir over the low heat for at least 5 minutes. The mixture should be almost firm, almost a play-dough consistency, but no dry flour left.
- Spoon out the kačamak in a serving dish. As you spoon out, drizzle a little of the melted lard and break up the kačamak with your spoon. Sprinkle the pork crackling crumb. Serve with white cheese and yoghurt. Enjoy!
- Serves 4-6.