Czech Republic: Svickova na smetane / Beef in Sour Cream Sauce

Every Czech will tell you that his or her maminka or babi makes this best. An essential hearty wintertime dish, svickova na smetane or smetana is everywhere to be found in Prague this time of year, when people come in out of the cold and want something substantial and savory to warm them up.

The dish takes one of the best cuts of beef, the tenderloin, and makes it more flavorful yet by marinating it in the vegetables with which it will later be cooked -- as well as adding vinegar to further tenderize the meat (a technique that will be familiar to those who've made that similar German specialty, sauerbraten). The dumplings -- big fluffy ones that are sliced with a thread before serving -- are absolutely mandatory: the recipe for them follows at the bottom of the full entry. Svickova is often served (as in the picture) with cranberry sauce: the tart flavor complements the richness of the dish.

Click on "read more" for the recipe...

For the svickova na smetana:

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin
  • 1 slice of bacon, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips, chopped
  • 1/2 small celeriac root, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 cup / 8 fluid ounces red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons butter or lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

24 hours before cooking time: Lard and marinate the beef. Using a small sharp knife, make small cuts in the tenderloin and insert one of the pieces of sliced-up bacon into each. Season well with salt and black pepper (fresh-ground or not, as you prefer).

Put the meat into a glass or ceramic (not metal) pan large enough to hold the meat but small enough to keep it covered by the marinade. Surround and cover it with the chopped vegetables. Sprinkle on thyme, allspice and parsley. Season with salt and more pepper: add bay leaves. Pour in the vinegar and two tablespoons of the oil. Add a little more water or vinegar if you need to in order to cover the meat (remember that the vegetables will let off a little liquid in the marinade). Cover the pan and refrigerate. Turn the meat in the marinade occasionally.

The next day: Preheat the oven to 175C / 350F. Remove the tenderloin from the marinade: pat it dry with paper towels. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil very hot in a drying pan big enough to take the tenderloin. Sear the meat all over: then remove to a roasting pan.

Pour a little water into the frying pan -- half a cup or so -- and boil rapidly, scraping the pan to get the remains of the searing into solution. Then pour these juices over the roast. Surround it with all the vegetables and pour over the marinating liquid. Place the butter or lard on top of the meat. Then put the whole business in the oven and roast, basting occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours.

When the meat is done, take it out of the oven and reduce the oven temperature to a very low setting (under 50C / 100F). Remove the roast from the pan: pour all remaining liquid and the vegetables into a pan. Put the meat back in the pan and return to the oven. Meanwhile, puree the liquid and vegetables in a blender or food processor, or push them through a sieve with a wooden spoon.

For the sauce: pour the vegetable puree into a medium-sized saucepan and heat to a low boil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and sugar. If the sauce needs thinning, add some water or beef broth. Finally, just before serving, stir the sour cream into the sauce and heat it through. Don't let it boil, or you risk the sour cream curdling.

Serve slices of the tenderloin with dumplings: ladle the sauce over.

For the bread dumplings / knedliky:

  • 3 cups white flour
  • 3 cups semolina
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk (or thereabouts)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 baguette / French stick or similar French bread, cubed

Mix the flour, semolina and baking powder together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the egg. Mix in some milk and the salt: then start mixing in the flour. Stir the dough very hard with a wooden spoon for about ten minutes, adding milk if necessary until bubbles start to form (or mix for several minutes in a food processor, using the plastic blade). Add some of the cubed bread: continue to mix. Keep adding bread until the dough is pretty full of it.

Put the dough on a floured board. Divide into four pieces, shaping them into small loaves by rolling them on the board with your hands.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Put in two of the dumplings and let them cook for 12 minutes: flip them over and cook for thirteen minutes more. Remove and repeat with the other two dumplings.

Place the cooked dumplings on a cutting board. Don't try to slice them with a knife: the dumplings are likely to get crushed and lose their lightness. Instead, take a long piece of sewing thread, slide under one of the dumplings (the short way), wrap it around the top and pull tight to slice. Repeat until the dumpling are all sliced. Place them in a covered serving bowl to keep warm.

(Photo via jmilles at flickr)