Characterised, not long ago, by one telly chef as “the land that vegetable forgot”, Czech food has undergone a renaissance in the last two years, not the food you will find in the average place in the centre of Prague, which has moved in recent year, at the top of the market, to imitation Michelin, gaining stars for trying rather than achieving, down to the usual international, acceptable to american, vaguely ethnic, mass market nosh. Not that, but a real attempt to get back to the rich variety of the peasant based cuisine.
The television has obviously played a part in this but prosperity and the now distant remnant of socialist standardisation plays an equal part.
Outside of the home any restaurace at midday in the country at large is the place to look.
Therefore much of the following is in need of an update!
I like Carp, many czech people tolerate Carp, but only as a Christmas Eve dinner. Even In South Bohemia, where the ponds are full of carp, at other times it is hard to find. Czech Carp is richer and cleaner tasting due to the uniquely natural system of farming. The popularity of Carp as THE Christmas dinner is still strong enough for street corners in the centre of a town to have fish sellers with tanks full of fish. Select the fish you want and take it home and keep it in your bath until required, or at second best, ask for it to be killed and gutted. Freshness is all important, we saved half of our fish in the fridge for the following day and noticed a marked decline in the flavour. The traditional meal is fish soup followed by fried carp and a rich potato salad.
The traditional meal is fish soup followed by fried carp and a rich potato salad.
Fish soup is made from the head, any spare meat, the roes and selected innards. The revelation here is how creamy and rich are the roes of a hen carp when they are this fresh.
Sauté fish roes in butter with finely chopped root vegetables. I used mainly celeriac, onion with a little carrot and garlic.
Cook fish head with spare meat with an onion and peppercorns and a bay leaf. Strain and reserve any decent pieces of fish.
Reserve a little of the stock and mix to a paste with 2 tablespoons of flour and a little nutmeg (Carrs sauce flour is excellent for this.) Combine, adjust seasoning and gently simmer. Serve with plenty of fresh parsley.
Some very sad looking tins of instant potato salad mix - just add cooked potato, still seems to be quite popular, judging by their availability in the shops.
This is my version.
1 kg potatoes, 3 carrots, 1 Apple, A shallot, Small packet frozen peas
3 tbs. capers, 3 dill pickles, 3 hard boiled eggs, 1 cup mayonnaise, Lemon Wedges, plenty of fresh parsley
Use salad potatoes although any waxy potatoes should do. Lightly boil potatoes then peel and cut into small cubes, sprinkle with a little wine vinegar. Make a sharp mayonnaise with mustard and slightly more wine vinegar than usual. Lightly cook the peas. Grate carrots and apples. Chop onion and dill pickles finely. Chop parsley. Chop eggs. Combine, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Decorate with the lemon wedges, some more slices of egg and dill pickle.
Do not use packet breadcrumbs!
Sprinkle carp steaks with lemon juice. Roll in flour. Dip in beaten eggs and roll in the breadcrumbs. Fry in a mixture of oil and butter. when nicely browned remove and finish for not more than 15 minutes in a moderate oven. Whilst good I think there are many better ways of cooking it!
The following are my versions of Czech originals. (I am reticent about using Czech diacritics on the web, so sorry about the spelling)
I have slightly elaborated a very basic soup which made with decent ingredients belies its simplicity.
In butter colour a little onion and a handful of Italian parsley or small leaf spinach or similar leaves (curled parsley would be too dominant) add some light vegetable stock and cook for 10 minutes. Liquidize and put through sieve. I like the addition of a very small piece of Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper. Add 1 Kg cubed waxy potatoes. Make up to 1.5L, boil with caraway, add 4 or 5 finely chopped dill pickles with some of the juice. Reserve some of the liquid and thicken with flour, add soured cream and very gently simmer. Serve with lots of fresh dill. Enough for 8
Was once available at every roadside place but is now disappearing which is a pity as, at their best, they are quite delicious. Although beware of the horrors that are still about!
Related to the Jewish Latke and German Kartoffelpuffer but given a unique Czech twist.
Grate 500gms of potato and squeeze out the juice. Mix with 100gms of flour and a crushed garlic clove and a scant teaspoon of dried marjoram. Add roughly the same amount of milk as the squeezed out liquid. Should be a thick consistency. Put a dollop of the mix into a frying pan and smooth out into aprox. 5mm pancake . Fry each side on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes until golden and a crisp crust has formed. Very nice wrapped around meat or a decent sausage or just eaten on their own.
1Kg shoulder of Pork, 120gm smoked bacon, 6 carrots cut into chunks, 8 shallots, 6 juniper berries, 1 lemon, 150gm Soured Cream
Cut pork into 3 large chunks. Lard with thick strips of bacon. and put the remainder in large pieces around the pan with the shallots and carrots. Cut strips of the Lemon peel then squeeze the lemon. Crush the juniper berries in a mortar and sprinkle over the pork along with the lemon peel.
Roast in hot oven (it works well in a Remoska.) Remove meat and vegetables, then mix in sour cream and flour + lemon juice and a little sugar, cook together, stirring until no lumps and juice has thickened
Packet of Puff Pastry, 1.5lb fresh salmon, 1lb Pollock, handful of dried Fungi, 6 large plum tomatoes, 2 shallots, parsley, glass white wine, salt, pepper, 3oz butter.
Break up dried Fungi and soak in a little hot water for 20min., Dice 2 shallots and add to roughly chopped tomatoes and simmer with the fungi and liquid till it reduces to a thickish sauce. Steam the fish over a small glass of white wine. Using the stock that ensues cook 3 oz. of basmatti rice when done add plenty of chopped parsley.
Roll out 1 sheet of pastry. Start with the rice and add a layer of the tomato paste. Then flake the mixed fish over this and finish with the rest of the paste. Pour a little melted butter over the layers and put another sheet of pastry over the lot and seal the edge. Cut 3 vents in top, decorate it with any scrap pastry and bake on a greased tray for 10min. at 200°C then 20min. to 25min. at 180°C until brown
This is utterly delicious and quite unusual. We grow Marrow in UK but never know what to do with it, here is an answer! Never been to Hungary where this is supposed to come from but have seen women in markets in Poland sitting with big mandolins grating marrow into "spaghetti"
2Kg marrow, 100gm salt, 50gm butter, 1 large dill pickle, and 125gm liquid from jar, 150gm soured cream, chopped fresh dill.
Peal the marrow and using a course grater or a mandolin make long spaghetti like strands of marrow. Mix with a little salt and after an hour wash then squeeze out the juice. Cook onion in butter, then make a roux, Liquidise cucumber and its liquid then add to roux, add the cream. Cook a bit then add marrow, be sure not to over cook. at the end stir in chopped dill.