The Spanish birds of Czech cuisine

Spanish bird (španělský ptáček in Czech) is a beloved Czech food. Contrary to its name, it has nothing to do with Spain, nor is it a winged animal. The “bird” is a traditional Czech beef roll filled with sauce, bacon, pickled cucumbers, sausage, and eggs. It can be served with rice, potatoes, or dumplings.

Photo: Klára Stejskalová

And how did the Spanish bird get its name? The internet offers several explanations. According to one theory, it comes from an old Jewish recipe. Perhaps a Jewish cook brought it to the Czech Lands, where people gave it a local twist by adding sausage and bacon.

A different explanation says that the food originated on the court of Emperor Rudolf II, whose mother, Maria of Spain, had Spanish chefs working in the royal kitchen. They prepared veal rolls with stuffing — a Spanish specialty that might have served as inspiration for Czech cooks.

From the 19th century onwards, the name Spanish bird was used for different meat roll recipes. It could refer to a veal roll filled with anchovies and small bread or, as in the recipe by the well-known Czech cook Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, to a beef roll with green leaves. Františka Hansgirg’s Spanish bird from her New Czech Cookbook, published in 1869, was a beef roll with bacon as its only filling. This naming inconsistency was cleared up in the 1950s as part of a larger standardization of Czech food norms. And so, the Spanish bird became the dish that is known throughout Czechia today — a beef roll filled with sausage, eggs, and pickles.

Recipe:

Photo: Patrik Rozehnal / Czech Radio

1.       Pound slices of beef steak, season with salt and pepper, spread mustard on one side of each slice

2.       Cut cucumber, egg, sausages, fat, and onion into quarter pieces, lay them on meat

3.       Roll the meat to tightly wrap the fillings, bind with a toothpick or thread if needed, you can also salt and pepper the surface of the birds

4.       Put onion and cooking oil onto baking pan, bake the birds until the meat is soft (heat at approximately 150 °C for 45 minutes)

5.       Pour broth on the birds (so that they are about ¾ covered)

6.       Thicken sauce with roux

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

800 grams of beef steak cut into 4 slices

4 teaspoons of full-fat mustard

50 grams of fat

2 sausages

2 eggs

1 large pickled cucumber

1 large onion

100 millilitres of cooking oil

1 litre of beef broth

Roux for thickening sauce

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