Rajská omáčka is one of the most iconic Czech sauces. It’s based on a broth made from beef, root vegetables, and tomato paste. Almost every national cuisine has its own tomato gravy. However, the Czech traditional rajská offers a uniquely rich sweet-sour taste.
Many Czech families argue what’s the “secret ingredient" of rajská (some people use cinnamon or grated gingerbread, for example).
There are also cooking competitions for the best rajská omáčka organized in the Czech Republic.
What Is Rajská omáčka?
Rajská omáčka (rajská in short) is an old fashioned Czech creamy and sweet red gravy sauce made from tomato paste, which gives it its typical full, beautiful red color.
Rajská omáčka is served warm, usually with a slice of beef and bread dumplings – knedlíky.
With its spicy and intense flavor, rajská is just the thing you need for the cold winter months.
I recorded a short audio clip on how to pronounce the Czech word rajská. The first word in the audio is "rajská", the last is "rajská omáčka", which means tomato sauce.
We will start with making a broth by cooking beef and root veggies. It takes about 3 hours, so plan carefully. The good news here: after all broth-related ingredients start simmering in the pot, you can forget them for the rest of the cooking.
Ingredients for beef broth:
- Beef; the best cut recommended by famous Czech cooks, is top blade
- Veggies; carrots, celery root, parsley root, onion, cloves of garlic
- Spices; bay leaves, allspice berries, black pepper berries, salt
You need the broth for making the tomato sauce, plus, you’ll get the cooked beef this way, which is usually served with rajská.
Ingredients for Rajská sauce:
- Broth; made from beef and root vegetables
- Onions; finely chopped
- Tomato paste; DO NOT use tomato purée, passata, or ketchup
- Granulated sugar; for sweet taste
- All-purpose flour; to thicken the sauce
- Butter; unsalted, cold
- Vinegar; e. g. distilled white vinegar
- Pork lard; or vegetable oil
- Spices; bay leaves, allspice berries, black pepper berries
Make The Beef Broth with Veggies
Making beef broth is actually very easy. The hero ingredient here is the time needed until the broth is done.
- Peel and clean the vegetables (carrots, celery and parsley root, onion, cloves). Cut them into large pieces; it’s enough to halve each vegetable. Don’t bother to chop veggies finely.
- Pour the water into a big pot, add the whole piece of beef and vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer.
- Skim off the scum that accumulates on the surface. This way, you’ll get a clear broth.
- Add the spices (bay leaves, allspice, black pepper), season with salt.
- Cover with a lid and cook for about 3 hours until beef is soft and the broth rich.
- Remove the beef out of the broth, set it aside.
- Strain the finished broth into a clean pot, discard the vegetables and spices.
Making Homemade Rajská from Scratch
Rajská sauce is always prepared in a separate saucepan, using the beef broth as directed.
STEP 1: Peel the onions and chop them finely. In a pot, melt lard over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté until translucent. (photo 1) Stir occasionally. Add the tomato paste, fry for 1 minute while stirring. (photo 2)
STEP 2: Add the flour, fry for another 1 minute, stirring frequently. (photo 3+5)
STEP 3: After the flour is shortly fried, the base is prepared for making rajská sauce.
STEP 4: Start adding beef broth in batches. Always stir or whisk until a creamy sauce is produced. Don’t worry if some lumps remain in a pot. They will be eliminated later while straining the rajská sauce through a sift.
STEP 5: Season the sauce with salt, vinegar and sugar. Add spices. Stir, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let the sauce simmer for 20 minutes.
STEP 6: Strain the sauce through a sift in a clean pot. Discard the rests (onion, spices) got stuck in a sift.
STEP 7: Taste the sauce with salt and sugar if necessary. As the final step, add cold pieces of butter to the sauce and let them melt. Now the rajská is ready to be served!
Serve warm with sliced beef you cooked earlier in the broth. Rajská pairs great with Czech dumplings as a side dish.
- When making beef broth, add spices ONLY after skimming off the scum, not before. If you added spices together with beef and veggies initially, you would discard the spices while scooping the foam floating on the surface.
- Making the broth takes the most time – count on 3 hours before the meat softens, so plan ahead. You can also prepare the broth a day before.
- Only use tomato paste for making rajská. The sauce prepared from fresh tomatoes / purée / passata is not vividly colored.
Rajská omáčka is thickened with flour. At first, the flour should be fried a bit to get more flavor. After the water is poured over fried flour, it must be cooked for about 20 minutes. The floury taste disappears, and tomato sauce will thicken.
If you leave the sauce thickened with flour overnight, it will get even thicker. When warming it up, add several spoons of water to make it creamy again.
Rajská is normally served with a slice of beef, but it’s not the rule. Tomato sauce also tastes perfect with stuffed peppers or with meatballs.
Rajská tomato sauce is usually served with bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky), a typical Czech side dish. Pasta or rice are less common, but still a good choice.
No, classical rajská omáčka is not the same as spaghetti (or pasta) tomato sauce.
Rajská omáčka - Czech Style Tomato Sauce
Broth from beef and root vegetables:
- 2 carrots (large)
- ¼ celeriac
- 1 parsley root
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 lbs (900 g) beef chucks
- 16 cups (3-4 l) water
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 balls allspice
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 onion (peeled, finely chopped)
- 1 Tbsp pork lard
- 1 cup (240 ml) tomato paste
- ⅔ cup (87 g) all-purpose flour
- 5 cups (1,2 l) beef broth
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 5 Tbsp vinegar
- 10 peppercorns
- 5 allspice berries
- 1,5 Tbsp (20 g) butter (cold)
Broth from beef and root vegetables:
- Clean and cut the vegetables into two pieces. Put them together with a whole piece of beef into a large pot.
- Add cold water, cover with a lid and bring it to a boil.
- Remove the lid and collect the condensed foam forming on the broth surface with a scoop.
- Once the foam stops forming, add the spices and salt and turn down the temperature to minimum, to a bare simmer, just a bubble or two coming up here and there. Don´t cover the pot with the lid again while simmering. It takes about 3 hours for the meat to soften.
- Take the meat out of the broth and keep it somewhere warm. Strain the broth into a clean pot. Discard the vegetables and spices.
- You don’t need all the broth for rajská sauce, you can freeze the rest once it cools down, as it will come in handy.
- Peel the onion and chop it finely.
- Melt the lard in a separate sauce pan and set it to medium heat.
- Add the onion and stir until it turns lightly golden brown.
- Add the tomato paste, stir about 1 minute.
- Pour in the flour and stir continuously for 30 sec.
- Add the broth and stir it.
- Add 1 level teaspoon of salt, sugar, vinegar and spices.
- Bring it to boiling, turn down the temperature to a third and boil it while stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
- Season the sauce with salt and sugar if necessary.
- Remove the pan with sauce from the stove, mix it with an immerse mixer (you can skip this step).
- Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pot.
- Add diced cold butter, which will soften up the sauce. Mix with a spoon until butter melts.
DISCLAIMER: Because I come from Central Europe, my recipes are based on metric units such as grams or milliliters. Check out how I convert metric units to the U.S. system:Conversion chart