Czech Food Classics: Roast pork knee
Although decidedly not a dish for vegetarians, roast pork knee (or pork knuckle) is one of the most popular items on Czech pub menus. The combination of well-cooked, not-quite-lean meat and a golden-baked, crispy exterior make this hearty dish a popular choice if you’ve worked up an appetite and want something rather more filling to go with your beer.
Czech cuisine is sometimes criticised by people from countries used to lighter food as being too heavy, fatty, and lacking vegetables. The pork knee is definitely not the dish to change their minds, as it is usually served with little more than some horseradish, mustard, and a slice of fresh bread, perhaps some radishes or pickled chili peppers being the only vegetables included on the side.
But for carnivores that love juicy meat, pork knee is a clear favourite. So much so that when Czech Radio asked chef Ondřej Koráb what tourists like to eat most from Czech cuisine, pork knuckle was the first thing he mentioned.
“You can tell from what tourists order, what they have heard about – roast knee, svíčková, goulash. Czech cuisine has its hidden treasures, its flavors are not known around the world. The disadvantage, of course, is that the dishes are heavy and one is not always as active afterwards as one should be [laughs].”
Unlike some of the other Czech food classics, roast pork knee is not difficult to prepare at home either. The only preparatory work required for it is seasoning the meat and turning on the oven. The key to a properly cooked pork knuckle is to make sure the meat is so well-cooked inside that it falls easily off the bone, while still remaining crisp and glistening with a golden-baked crust on the outside.
The knee is usually pre-cooked first in a broth made with water, onions, carrots, garlic, and spices (typically salt, black pepper, bay leaf, and allspice) and is then put in the oven to roast until crispy and fragrant. It is usually served with the aforementioned horseradish, sharp mustard, and bread, but also tastes great with dumplings, potatoes, and steamed spinach or cabbage. It is sometimes served impaled on a metal skewer.
Traditionally, rural cottages in the Czech lands always contained a kitchen with an open fire and a wood fired oven, and it was this that especially led to the popularity of the pork knuckle, as Czech Radio traditional cuisine expert and old recipe collector Vladimíra Jakouběová explains.
“It was not only the ingredients that were available that influenced Czech cuisine. So-called ‘black kitchens’, with a large open funnel-shaped chimney beneath which there was an open fire, became increasingly widespread in our country during the 18th century thanks to fire regulations.”
Pork knee was the perfect thing to easily prepare in the wood fired ovens to serve the whole family and ensure full bellies and smiling faces at the end.
Although considered a traditional Czech dish by many, pork knee can also be found in neighbouring Bavaria, as Schweinshaxe, and in Austria, as Stelze.