Smažený sýr is typically prepared with Edam, Gouda or Muenster, but it can also be prepared with Hermelín (Czech camembert) or Niva (Czech blue cheese). It is traditionally served with a Czech version of tartar sauce (tatarská omáčka), and French fries or boiled potatoes.
This delicious vegetarian delicacy is also called smažák in Czech, vyprážaný syr in Slovak, and rántott sajt in Hungarian. When it includes ham or bacon, it is called smažený sýr se šunkou or plněný smažený sýr.
In the Czech Republic, smažený sýr is not an appetizer, but rather a full vegetarian meal. The breaded cheese slices can be eaten with a fork and knife, and dipped in tartar sauce, or they can be placed in a bun to make a sandwich.
Smažený sýr absolutely needs to be consumed hot as when it cools, the cheese hardens. It tastes best when the hot cheese melts and oozes out of the crusty shell while cutting it.
Fried cheese was probably popular in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. Athenaeus, the 3rd century Greek food writer, relates that the Greek poet Pherecrates spoke a lot about “melted cheese sizzling”. The Greek delicacy is known as saganaki, and this is the one I flambéed (American style) in my own kitchen… with a fire extinguisher not too far…
In Medieval times, fried cheese was also a common food in Egypt where it was called gebna maqleyya (جبنة مقلية). To this day, this Egyptian snack is cooked in oil and served with bread by street vendors.
Queso frito (fried cheese) is served as a tapas dish in Spain as well as in Central America. In Spain, fried cheese balls are called delicias de queso. Malakoff are balls of fried cheese that are traditional in Western Switzerland. Kaassoufflé is a Dutch snack consisting of melted cheese inside a thin dough-based wrap (often puff pastry) which has been breaded before being deep-fried.
And let’s not forget the Italian version called mozzarella fritta, and is now quite popular in the United States, especially in the form of mozzarella sticks, that are often served with marinara sauce or ranch sauce. Mozzarella in carrozza (mozzarella in a carriage) is a specialty from Southern Italy which consists in a fried cheese sandwich, similar to a French croque-monsieur or American grilled cheese sandwich.
I had the opportunity to taste smažený sýr in Prague a couple years ago, as we visited the beautiful capital with the whole family. There, we met with one of my best friends’ parents, originally from Prague, and we feasted at a traditional Bohemian restaurant, after a visit at the top of the Old Town Hall.
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Koutna. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
- 4 ½-inch thick slices cheese (Edam, Gouda or Hermelín)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs , beaten
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 4 gherkins (pickles) , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers
- ½ onion , grated
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place the flour in a shallow bowl, the eggs in another and the breadcrumbs in a third.
- Dredge a slice of cheese in the flour.
- Then dip it in the beaten eggs, submerging it to wet it all over.
- Finally cover with bread crumbs, making sure the cheese slice is completely coated.
- Repeat the same operation with the egg and bread crumbs. The double coating ensures the cheese does not leak when frying.
- Set aside on a plate and repeat with the other slices of cheese.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the tartare sauce by mixing together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, gherkins, capers and onion in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a deep fryer or in a pan at medium/high heat until it reaches 350 F.
- Deep fry the cheese slices for about 20 seconds.
- Serve immediately with boiled potatoes or French fries, as well as tartar sauce.
Deep frying will be a quicker frying method and will avoid any leak of cheese. You can also pan fry the cheese slices on each side in hot oil until golden brown.