Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vepro-Knedlo-Zelo (Czech Roast Pork with Dumplings and Sauerkraut)

A few weeks ago, we had a team lunch at Tony Roma's, and naturally at some point, we talked about food, allergies, cooking etc. My boss then posed a question on what was the best meal we've ever had. I couldn't think of a particular "best meal" because eating is not just about the food, but the experience and atmosphere as well. So, my response was more around my most memorable meal, many years ago when I first had deep-fried herb-crusted lamb's brains at Ginger Nuts (what a funky name!) at Port Fairy, a charming fishing village at the end of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. I will never forget that experience, and boy, did they taste good!

I later recalled another favourite food memory at La Boheme, a restaurant in Balmain that serves European cuisine and where I fell in love with the roast pork and dumplings. I have to admit that the dish wasn't much to look at and I was a little sceptical at first. There were some thin slices of pork covered in a pale-coloured sauce, with pieces of dumplings on the side that looked rather dense and unappetising. Well, looks certainly are deceiving. After taking my first bite, I couldn't wipe the goofy smile off my face. It was comfort food. It was happy food. I savoured each and every mouthful after that and polished off every bit of sauce and crumb on my plate. It went down well with a glass of Czech beer (can't remember what it was).
I found some recipes for Czech roast pork with dumplings and finally decided to make it at home. Apparently, it's the national dish of the Czech Republic. It's not that difficult, although it does take time to make the dumplings, and roast the pork. The sauerkraut is easy. You might need some elbow grease in making the dumplings unless you use a stand-mixer to knead the dough. I was really happy at how everything turned out, especially the dumplings which were perfect. Surprisingly, the kids (who are fussy eaters) loved it too! The recipes below have been adapted from various sources. I can't say if they even close to being authentic, but the flavours are wonderful and I loved it.
Roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut with gravy - comfort food for the soul
Czech Roast Pork
Adapted from Epicurious

1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, crushed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1.2 kg (2.5 lbs) pork shoulder / leg  roast
1 large onion, roughly diced
1/2 cup water  (add more if liquids dry out too much)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 tablespoon butter

Form paste with vegetable oil, mustard, caraway seeds, garlic powder, s/p.
Rub on pork roast and set aside for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Place onions in roasting pan. Add water.
Place roast, fat side down, on top of onions.
Cover pan with foil.
Roast 1 hour in the preheated oven. Remove foil, turn roast, score the fat. Continue roasting, fat side up 2 hours uncovered (add more water if pan is drying out). Remove from heat, reserve pan juices. Let sit about 10 mins before cutting into thin slices.

In a saucepan, bring pan juices to boil. Gradually add 1/2 cup water or more to make a sauce. Mix butter and cornstarch solution to thicken slightly, reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (or add more water if it's too salty). Serve with sliced pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. Please find the recipes after the jump.
These yeast-based dumplings are simply wonderful! Reminds me of Chinese steamed buns!

Czech Dumplings
Adapted from Just A Pinch Recipes
1/2 sachet dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup milk, cool
1/2 cup milk, warm
1/2 egg
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups plain flour
2 cups cubed stale white bread
  1. Mix the first three ingredients, let stand for 10 minutes. Mix the warm milk, egg, salt, yeast mixture and flour. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add the bread cubes and knead it into the dough. Place in a large bowl, cover with a cloth and let the dough rest in a warm place to rise. It should double in about 2 hours.
  2. Knead again and divide into 2 sections. Roll each section into a log, each about 1 1/2" thick and 7-8" long. Let rise another 1/2 hour. Drop the logs of dough, one at a time, into a large pot of boiling salted water with a tight fitting lid. Boil gently on medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE LID!! Remove with slotted spoons and place on a wooden chopping board. Immediately use the sharp point of a knife and poke holes in it to release the steam. Keep warm by draping a cloth over them and to prevent it from drying out. When ready to serve, slice 3/4" thick with a sharp knife.

Delicious sauerkraut!
Adapted from various sources

1 (16 ounce) jar sauerkraut 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
Pour the sauerkraut into a large bowl. Use hands to squeeze out the "juice" into the bowl. Reserve the juice.
Roughly chop the sauerkraut at 2 inch intervals.
Heat oil in a medium pan and fry bacon and onion for 2 minutes. Add caraway seeds and sauerkraut and fry for 1 minute. Add some of the reserved sauerkraut juice until it almost covers the top of the sauerkraut. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir briefly, and then cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm. Serve with pork and dumplings.

I made roast pork loin with crispy crackling instead