Smažený sýr (I attempt to pronounce it like the Czechs as smah-jeh-knee seer) is a dish that Jan and I ate every day that we were in the Czech Republic. This probably doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that it is basically a steak-sized portion of breaded and deep-fried cheese, often served with french fries, braised cabbage, and a tartar-type sauce. I had never experienced this cheesy goodness until visiting the Czech Republic, and it didn’t sound appealing to me when Jan described it to me beforehand. But, it was so amazing, whenever we sat down at a restaurant to eat there, that had to be one of the dishes we ordered.
Upon our return, Jan assured me that we were safe from continuing our overindulgence in smažený sýr at home, since he’d tried multiple times to make it and it never turned out right.
Well, we were safe for a while. Some time later we ate at San Francisco’s Cafe Prague, and Jan got to talking to one of the chefs there. The two began speaking in Czech so rapidly that I couldn’t even pick out the five Czech words I knew (which include the essentials: beer, ice cream, good, bad, and cheese = syr). Later, Jan reported to me the most important part of their conversation: the secret to making smažený sýr, or fried cheese.
It wasn’t as tricky as we thought. The main thing was to bread the cheese two times, otherwise, the cheese would leak out due to the heat during the deep-frying process, and you’d be left with an empty shell of breading. Funny we’d never considered that before. Well, perhaps that was my fault. I’d helped Jan’s cousin Eva make a smažený sýr dinner at her home outside of Jan’s hometown of Karlovy Vary, but perhaps was drinking too much Czech beer to have remembered the key steps.
So we left San Francisco with a mission: perfect the smažený sýr so we could enjoy it from the other side of the globe. The Czechs used edam cheese, so that’s what we started with. However, the edam we purchased here was far more salty that what we’d had over there. Next time, we tried both fontina and havarti, which were both excellent choices, with some slight differences in texture. I think the flavor of the fontina is most comparable to the Smažený sýr we had in the Czech Republic, but gets a little more meltier and you have to eat it quickly before the cheese melts out of its shell. The havarti has a little more stronger flavor, but its texture holds up a little better during the frying.
You can probably guess that Jan and I can debate this endlessly, so we usually just end up doing both cheeses, cut into different shapes so that we can distinguish them at the table.
We’ve also tried mozzarella and provolone, which are good, but I think their flavors are too mild. And using Italian cheeses is getting just a bit too far from Central Europe for me to keep using the term smažený sýr and not turning it into “mozzarella stick.”
When making Smažený sýr, we often make it along with breaded and fried cauliflouer, apple-braised cabbage, and mashed potatoes.
Smažený sýr (Czech fried cheese) and fried cauliflower
- Wedge of fontina or havarti cheese
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 2 eggs (for breading)
- 2 tablespoons milk (for breading)
- All purpose flour (for breading)
- Regular or Italian style bread crumbs
- Vegetable oil (for deep frying)
- Use a knife to slice the cheese roughly about 1/2 inch X 3 inch X 4 inch pieces.
- Wash the cauliflower and divide into small flowerettes. Set in a colander to dry.
- Bread the cheese by covering thoroughly with flour, then dipping into a bowl of egg and milk, and lastly into the bread crumbs. Make sure all the cheese is covered by the bread crumbs, or cheese will have a place to escape out of when deep frying. Dip again in the egg/milk mixture, and again in the bread crumbs.
- Repeat this procedure with all the pieces of cheese. Bread the cauliflower, dipping into each bowl only once (only the cheese needs to be double-breaded).
- Fry the cauliflower first in a shallow pan of oil, about 1.5″ deep. When breading becomes golden brown, remove and set on paper towels.
- Fry the cheese just before serving. Serve with cold beer, mashed potatoes or french fries, braised cabbage, and a sauce consisting of: half light mayo / half light sour cream, chopped onions and pickles, and black pepper. I also like to serve it with the Swedish lingonberry sauce (available at IKEA or Cost Plus World Market) or cranberry sauce on the side. Preparing the whole meal takes some work, but it’s a good deterrent to eating it too often.