Meat has an important place in the history of Polish cuisine – a fact of which the authors of old cookbooks were well aware. One of the most widely read authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa (her Universal Cookbook was published at the end of the nineteenth century and has been translated into English) underscored that a good piece of meat is the most common dish on both the humblest and the most lavish of tables: ‘it is a favourite food of all men, considered the basis of a good dinner, and is often laid on the king’s table. Even the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph had to have a piece of meat with a flower every day for dinner’. A century before that, the famous Jan Szyttler (chef at the court of the last Polish king – Stanisław August Poniatowski – and later the author of many cookbooks) was of the same opinion: ‘At each table the primary thing is soup and a piece of meat.’ It is worth noting that in the past this dish was understood as boiled (stewed) meat broth (not just beef), to which were added a variety of trimmings and sauces. Today the dish is still common – beef boiled in broth and served with horseradish sauce. You can order at eateries and restaurants serving traditional Polish cuisine. When prepared properly, with good quality products, it is very tasty.
Veal paprikash entered Polish cuisine through the influence of Hungary. The dish first appeared in Polish cookbooks in the nineteenth century. After frying diced veal, it is stewed with garlic, paprika (preferably Hungarian), and seasoned cream. According to experts, it is the cream that distinguishes paprikash from goulash. Maria Disslow, author of the well-known column How to Cook, advises adding drop dumplings to the paprikash. The dish is great served this way, but it’s more often accompanied by potatoes, which are equally tasty. Pickles are a mandatory addition to paprikash. In restaurants serving traditional Polish cuisine, well-prepared veal paprikash can be an exquisite dish and extremely flavoursome – it’s worth a taste.
Steak tartare is a dish well known to the Poles. It’s possible that it was brought to the Wisła under the influence of French cuisine. At the beginning of the twentieth century in France, elegant restaurants served a dish of finely chopped, raw beef (steak l’americanne avec sauce tatare – ‘American steak with tartar sauce’). When it appeared in the first edition of Larousse Gastronomique in the 1930s, the name was shortened to its current form, ‘steak tartare’.
Tartare was valued and appeared in Polish cuisine of the era; the average Polish restaurant in the interwar period had to have fresh steak tartare on its menu. It was recommended ‘for people with poor circulation or suffering from a lack of appetite’. Here’s a recipe from the late nineteenth century that has changed little since then: ‘Clean beef tenderloin of fat and veins (…) with a knife chop as much meat as you want to have in your serving. Add finely chopped onions or shallots, some salt and pepper, and knead into round steaks. Make a depression in the middle of each and add a raw egg yolk. Dress you plate with finely cut cornichons, pickled mushrooms, radishes, and capers. If you prefer a sharper taste, you can add oil mixed with a teaspoon of mustard’.
Of course, steak tartare should be ordered in good restaurants, which pay attention to the quality and freshness of their meat and eggs.
Cutlet de volaille, or Chicken Kiev, is a dish made with flattened chicken breast, stuffed with butter and spices (such as garlic and dill, and sometimes cheese, mushrooms, and ham), then breaded and, in accordance with the original recipe, fried in clarified butter. It was popularised in the interwar period, and after 1945 the best Polish restaurants considered it the pinnacle of culinary sophistication. After 1989, the dish was widespread, albeit in bars rather than fine restaurants. Fried in oil, Chicken Kiev is offered at almost every roadside bar. Although the Polish name suggests a French origin, Chicken Kiev is not a dish of French cuisine. It came to the Polish lands from Russia during the time of partition in the nineteenth century. The dish probably originated from kitchen of the legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who in 1818 cooked at the court of Tsar Alexander I. In Ukraine and America the dish is known as ‘Chicken Kiev’. In Poland, it has retained its original name ‘Kotlet de volaille’.