Svíčková na smetaně translates as beef sirloin in cream sauce and is one of the most popular meals in the Czech Republic.
Beef tenderloin, or sirloin, is slow cooked with root vegetables and spices. The cooked root vegetables make up the sauce which sour cream is added to before serving. The beef is larded before cooking – cuts are made in the meat and diced bacon is inserted – and this creates a deep and rich flavorsome meat.
Svíčková na smetaně is a hearty dish typically eaten during the cold winter months in the Czech Republic. The beef is cooked with a variety of root vegetables, traditionally onions, carrots, celeriac, leeks and turnips to create a substantial dish. Because the beef is slow cooked, it is tender and flavorsome. The added spices include allspice berries, bay leaves and mustard seeds to create an aromatic sauce. All of the ingredients are easily sourced within the Czech Republic and the root vegetables are traditionally grown in this region in Europe. As with most traditional dishes, family recipes and variations have been passed down through generations. Variations include substituting the beef with pork or rabbit, sour cream is swapped for whipping cream and different amounts of spices are used from family to family.
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.
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. Rather than the root vegetables making up the creamy sauce, they are 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.
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.
The dish is reminiscent of another creamy meat dish from Argentina called vitel toné, although the sauce also incorporates anchovies and tuna. In Croatia, they also cook the meat in a sauce composed of cooked root vegetables, that is called pašticada.
Svíčková na smetaně is a rich dish with a deep flavor profile, with a mix of creamy, tart, meaty and sweet. Although the preparation of the dish is lengthy, taking over three hours to make, it is not labor intensive. Once the meat and the vegetables are prepared, the dish goes in to the oven for a long, slow cook, making it an ideal Sunday meal with friends or family.
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Koutna. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
- 1½ lb beef tenderloin or sirloin in one piece
- 5 oz. smoked bacon diced
- 2 onions cut into large slices
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons mustard (or 2 oz/50g mustard seeds)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 carrots , julienned
- ½ celeriac , julienned
- 1 leek , thinly sliced
- 2 turnips , julienned
- 1 cube beef broth , diluted in ¾ cup/200ml hot water
- 1¼ cup sour cream
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 whole allspice berries (nové koření)
- Zest of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons cranberry jam or other berry jam
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C.
- Poke the piece of meat, and insert the bacon in the holes. Season with salt and tie the meat with kitchen twine.
- In a large cast iron pot or Dutch oven, sauté the onions over medium heat.
- Add the sugar and caramelize the onions lightly.
- Add all the vegetables and sauté for 10 minutes.
Add the meat, lemon zest, vinegar, 1 teaspoon mustard (or 1 oz/25g mustard seeds), whole allspice berries, pepper and bay leaves.
- Stir and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Pour over the diluted beef broth cube and bake in the oven for 2h15. Turn the meat over and add boiling water regularly, if necessary.
- Take out from the oven. Remove the meat and bay leaves.
- Add remaining mustard (or mustard seeds). Mix all the content and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add a little boiling water if necessary. The sauce must be creamy and not liquid.
- Finally add the cream, and cook the sauce for 1 more minute without stirring.
- Slice the meat, place the slices in the sauce. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve with cranberry jam, as well as knedliky (dumplings).