Most tourists visit Prague to savour the unique ambiance of the Old Town area. My Bucket List attraction was the 1410 Town Hall astronomical clock around which many stories and fairy tales are woven.
And Czech food was a pleasant surprise. I knew traditional dishes were hearty, with an emphasis on pork, game and sausages often cooked in lard. However, times have changed. The influence of international food chains, international TV culinary shows and a booming tourist industry, has encouraged chefs to add their own flair to local fare. Fusion cuisine is alive and well, especially in Prague.
A large Jewish community has lived in Prague for centuries and local hummus, falafel and vegan shawarma is offered in a variety of cafés.
In the late 1980s pizzerias began to pop up like mushrooms and then Czechs discovered Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. They’re served at casual eateries on rooftops and footpaths.
Okay, so traditional cuisine is still served but with a lighter touch. It’s available at beer halls — beer being the drink of choice for most locals. Thankfully lard is now unfashionable.
In 2008, the first Michelin Star awarded in eastern Europe went to the then Italian restaurant at Prague’s Four Seasons Hotel. Today’s Czech food is well worth — er — checking out.
RABBIT IN CREAM SAUCE
Chicken can replace the rabbit, if preferred, in this traditional dish, I procured this Central Otago rabbit from www.premiumgame.co.nz. Prepare the cranberry compote by simmering 1 1/2 cups of frozen cranberries in a 1/2 cup of water together with 1/2 a cinnamon sick. Cook until the berries begin to burst, then cool.
750g (about 4) rabbit legs
1 teaspoon salt
1 each: medium onion, carrot, parsnip
2 each: celery stalks, garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 each: large sprigs thyme, bay leaves
1 teaspoon each: whole peppercorns, ground all spice, vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
Sauce: 3 tablespoons plain flour
2 teaspoons each: Dijon-style mustard, lemon juice
3/4 cup cream
Preheat the oven to 160°C.
Wash the rabbit under cold water then dry well. Sprinkle with salt.
Dice the onion. Peel and slice the carrot and parsnip lengthwise into thick batons. Slice the celery similarly. Crush the garlic.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sauté the onion, until softened. Add the vegetables and cook until lightly coloured. Stir in the garlic. Place in a casserole large enough to hold the rabbit in a single layer.
Add the rabbit to the frying pan and sauté until lightly coloured all over. Place in the casserole and sprinkle with the spices and vinegar. Add the stock.
Cover and bake in the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours or until the rabbit is tender. Remove the rabbit and vegetables to a serving dish and keep warm.
To make the sauce, tip the juices from the casserole into the frying pan. Simmer until reduced to about a 1/2 cup. Whisk in the flour and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add the mustard and lemon juice then the cream. Simmer until thickened.
Pour over the rabbit and serve. Great accompanied by a cranberry compote. Serves 4.
CZECH PICKLED CHEESE
Good substitutes for the traditional Czech cheese normally used are Brie and Camembert. The cheese is usually marinated at room temperature for several weeks but it may be refrigerated, if preferred. The oil will set but will return to liquid at room temperature. Use the leftover oil for cooking.
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons grated root ginger
1/4 teaspoon each: salt, paprika
250g wheel Brie or Camembert
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon diced chilli
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons peppercorns
1 cup olive oil
Mix the garlic, ginger, salt and paprika to form a paste.
Slice the wheel of cheese in half horizontally. Spread the paste on one cut half and sandwich together with the other.
Place a few slices of onion in the base of a wide jar. Top with the chilli, a bay leaf and half the peppercorns. Place the cheese on top. Add the remaining onion, bay leaves and peppercorns. Pour in enough oil to submerge the ingredients.
Marinate for at least 3 days at room temperature or up to 4 weeks in the fridge.
Remove the cheese from the oil and pat dry. Place on a serving plate and serve with pickles and crusty bread or crackers. Serves 4.
CZECH POTATO & SAUERKRAUT SOUP
Kielbasa is the traditional sausage for this easy, delicious soup. Smoked chorizo can be substituted.
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cup good chicken stock
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
pepper to taste
1 cup finely sliced sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
100g smoked chorizo, slice into 1 cm rounds
sour cream to serve
Sauté the onion in the oil in a large saucepan until lightly coloured.
Add the stock, potatoes, caraway seeds and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Add the sauerkraut and chorizo. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Serve topped with sour cream. Serves 4.