Citizens, I wish all of you based in the United States a profound Memorial Day – please do remember all those who made the supreme sacrifice and gave their lives in service to our country!
One might expect a BBQ recipe given the holiday, especially since it’s the official start of Summer – but the always chaotic TFD marches to the beat of His own drummer, as do all the beloved members of TFD Nation! So, I am instead going to offer the most popular recipe in Czechia – formerly the Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia. Details on the name change are here. Svíčková, or svíčková na smetaně is a rich and delicious Czech meat dish and one of the most popular Czech meals.
It is sirloin steak, larded with bacon fat and marinated overnight with vegetables (carrots, parsley root, celeriac, and onion), spiced with black pepper, juniper, allspice, bay leaf, and baked together. Then, the vegetables and gravy are gathered, mashed/mixed with sour cream and used as a sauce.
It is generally served with bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky) and cranberry sauce. Note: In most restaurants and canteens the staff actually boils the beef, instead of baking it as is proper.
In many Czech restaurants, svíčková na smetaně is often served with a cream (smetana) topping, cranberry sauce and a slice of lemon. Knedliky (bread dumplings) often accompany the dish, and they are used to soak up the root vegetable sauce.
Svíčková na smetaně is widely considered to be one of the national dishes of the Czech Republic, along with guláš (goulash). A lot of Czech cuisine can be found in neighboring European countries such as Austria or Germany (Bavaria), but svíčková na smetaně can only be found in the Czech Republic.
The word svice, in Czech, means “candle”. As the shape of the beef is similar to the shape of a candle, the dish was called svíčková. Now, when people reference svíčková, they are often referring to the sauce rather than the meat.
One of the first references to this dish came in 1826 from Czech writer Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, in her best-selling book, Domácí kuchařka (A Household Cookery Book).
Beef tenderloin was cooked and marinated in wine vinegar, slowly cooked in beef stock and topped with sour cream. Root vegetables were not included in this recipe, but it contained lots of the common elements seen in the dish today.
More recent variations of the recipe call for the meat to be marinated overnight before cooking, while others cook the meat separately to the vegetable sauce so that it can be cooked to preference.
Following the First World War, immigrants brought the dish to the United States and a variation of the dish can easily be found in Chicago, but it is quite different from the original Czech recipe.
Bohemian immigrants to the United States following the First World War passed on an older variation of the dish to subsequent generations that is much closer to German sauerbraten, while regional tastes and product availability have influenced its preparation. Rather than the root vegetables making up the creamy sauce, they are instead incorporated into a vinegar-based marinade.
Svíčková na smetaně is often considered a festive dish, with some families serving it on First Christmas Feast (Christmas Day). Because of the time it takes to prepare the dish, it is now often eaten at special occasions such as weddings.
Citizens, this is not an overly difficult recipe to make, although the larding of the beef can be challenging if you’re not used to it. To make it easier, make sure the bacon fat is ice-cold and do yourself a favor: spend $10 or so and buy a proper larding needle here. The dumpling recipe is cribbed verbatim from a truly authentic one I found at eatingeurope.com.
Happy Memorial Day to all of TFD Nation!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- 1 ½ lb. (680 g) beef sirloin
- 2 oz. (55 g) bacon fat
- 1 cup (235 ml) beef stock (use low-salt if canned, TFD strongly prefers homemade for this recipe)
- 2 tbsp. vinegar
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 7 oz. (200 g) celeriac (1 medium root), peeled and diced
- 1 medium parsley root, peeled and diced – optional but strongly recommended. If unavailable, use ⅓ a rutabaga and a small turnip
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 ½ oz. (100 g) butter, melted
- 10 black peppercorns
- 4 allspice berries
- 6 juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup (235 ml) full-fat sour cream (plus some milk) – TFD endorses only Daisy brand
- 3 tbsp. strong Dijon mustard (TFD prefers Edmond Fallon brand)
- Recipe for bread dumplings:
- 2 pinches salt
- ½ tsp ground mace (and a bit of turmeric if you want to have a tasty-looking yellow tint to the dumplings; the flavor is good too)
- 2 cups (475 ml) coarse flour (hruba mouka) – Mix all-purpose flour with semolina in a 1:1 ratio
- 2 cups (475 ml) semi-coarse flour (polohruba mouka) – Mix all-purpose flour with semolina in a 2:1 ratio
- Approx. 1 cup (235 ml) lukewarm milk (more if the dough is dry)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2–3 rolls or buns (the traditional-sized ones, they’re about 70g each)
- 1 egg
- 1 cube fresh yeast (or the dried yeast equivalent)
- To garnish:
- cranberry or lingonberry preserves
- sour cream
- lemon slices
- Lard the meat (prick it with a knife or a big kitchen needle and stuff strips of the bacon fat through the sirloin). If you are using a big piece of meat, freeze the fat beforehand; it is much easier to get the fat through the whole length that way. Then, season with salt and pepper.
- Grind all the spices including the bay leaves, then add them to the meat with the diced root vegetables, 1 tbsp. vinegar and pour melted butter over the meat to seal it. Let it marinate in a fridge overnight.
- Add the stock, cover with a lid and braise in the oven at 320 °F (160 °C) until the meat is very soft – you should be able to cut it with a fork. This usually takes 2-4 hours.
- For the dumplings:
- First, mix the flours with the salt and spices.
- Dissolve the sugar in ½ the milk, add crumbled yeast and let it grow in there a bit, until “islands” of new yeast start to from on the surface.
- Pour the egg into the flour, then pour in the milk (bit by bit) and yeast, and knead with your hands. Keep adding milk until you have a nice dough that’s not too dry and not too sticky (though it can be slightly wetter and stickier than your instinct would suggest – you’ll still add the buns that soak up a bit of the milk).
- Cut the rolls or buns into a small dice (a little smaller than ½” cubed). Gently mix the bread into the dough. Then form the dumpling mixture into a roll(s) – a 2-3 inch diameter will give you sufficiently big dumplings after you’ve left the dough to rise for about 45 minutes.
- Gently lower the roll into salted boiling water and cook for 16-19 minutes. You want to take it out before the crust gets slick. Prick with a fork (this prevents it from collapsing after it cools down a bit)
- When you’re ready to serve, cut the dumpling into circles ⅔-inch thick – using floss or a cheese wire to cut is ideal.
- Set them aside in a warm oven.
- Remove the meat and press the vegetables through a fine sieve (you can even use cloth for an extra fine texture). Use a hand blender if the texture is still not very fine and creamy.
- Add the sour cream and mustard and bring to boil; add salt, and the last tbsp. of vinegar – add some whole milk if the sauce needs to be thinned out. To highlight the sweet and sour taste, add some caramelized sugar (caramelize 1 tbsp. of sugar – when it starts melting and turns brown, add some water and cook).
- Cut the sirloin into ½” thick circles; put these back into sauce to heat them through. Garnish with cranberry or lingonberry preserves, lemon slices, a dollop of sour cream and bread dumpling slices.
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