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 Generalissimo