A Czech Take on 'The Other White Meat'

 Classic Czech pork.

Classic Czech pork.

It’s no secret that the traditional Czech kitchen is unwelcoming to vegetarians, and kosher law abiding diners for that matter. In fact, Anthony Bourdain once called the Czech Republic, “the land that vegetables forgot”. The meat of choice here is pork, and Czechs not only praise it, they cook it damn well too. Pork comes in many forms in the Czech kitchen— roasted, smoked, braised, and even pickled. No part of the pig goes unused. Czechs utilize the entire animal from snout to tail, and specialize in knuckle, shoulder, and knee. Pork is made into a variety of products including sausages, pâtés, and cooking fats (which I recently learned can even be used as a collagen-boosting beauty product). This week, I attempted classic Czech pork from Alzbeta Novack’s cookbook, Czech Recipes.

 Pork seasoned with caraway seeds.

Pork seasoned with caraway seeds.

While the recipe appears to be more straightforward than those I previously cooked from Alzbeta’s book, I was particularly nervous about this week’s meaty challenge. I rarely cook large cuts of meat in my kitchen, and besides the occasional breakfast bacon, I had never cooked proper pork steaks. Although I grew up in a non-religious household, I hadn’t really tasted many pork dishes until my teenage years. Even then, my experience with pork was somewhat limited to cold cuts between Wonder Bread or stuffed inside a croissant with cheese.

Like many other Czech dishes, caraway seeds are the dominant spice of this recipe. Caraway’s similarity to oregano and anise aroma gives the meat an earthy and slightly smoky flavor. I’ve enjoyed the dish alongside dumplings and sauerkraut at many traditional Czech taverns (called hospodas), and I think I’ll continue to enjoy the dish only while out. Unfortunately, this recipe seemed to miss the mark.

 Pork shoulder with onions, garlic, caraway seeds, salt and pepper, in a shallow bath of water and oil.

Pork shoulder with onions, garlic, caraway seeds, salt and pepper, in a shallow bath of water and oil.

Alzbeta’s recipe calls for the aromatics (garlic and onions) to be both laid around, and placed on top of the meat without much additional cooking fat. Half way through the cooking process, the onions and garlic had completely burned, and needed to be removed. Additionally, the recipe does not call for any basting, which I believe could help the meat become far more tender than its final product. I also cut down the total cooking time by about a quarter, because the recipe’s original call for a whopping two hours in the oven dried out the meat. Finally, like I’ve noticed in other Czech recipes, the meat needed far more salt than the recommended “to taste” measurement. The recipe below is my updated version, which produces a far juicier, more flavorful cut of meat than the original version.

Make this dish at the beginning of the week as a main course, or cut into smaller pieces to add to omelets, salads, sandwiches, mac and cheese, and even curries and stir fries. For something a bit festive, try adding fall fruits like apples, plums, or even cranberries to the pork prior to baking. For storage, remember to leave the pork in its cooking juices, so that it retains moisture throughout the week.

Ingredients

2 pork shoulder slices

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup of water

3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Sprinkle pork with caraway seeds, salt and pepper, evenly.

  3. In a baking dish, place pork and place onion and garlic over. under, and around pork.

  4. Add water and oil around and on top of pork evenly, making sure to spread over the onions and garlic.

  5. Bake for 1.5 hours.

  6. Serve with bread or potato dumplings and sauerkraut.

 Classic Czech pork.

Classic Czech pork.

Halley Crane