Gloomy Sunday: Hungarian Beef Roll Recipe

Year Released: 1999
Directed by: Rolf Schubel
Starring: Joachim Krol. Erika Marozsan, Stefano Dionisi, Ben Becker
(R, 112 min.)

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned." William Butler Yeats

Hungary in the 1930s, and Laszlo Szabo’s Budapest restaurant, as well as the man himself, stands as a last bastion of elegance, civility and grace in a world that is slowly spiraling into chaos. While his beautiful Ilona, like her Greek namesake Helen, is the center of her own small circle of adulation and destruction.

The film opens with a framing device that is like the theme of a symphony: the first time you hear it you may or may not connect, but in the hands of an expert composer, like Beethoven, say with his Fifth, it is developed with more and more passion, more and greater texture, each chord explored in its full harmony and dissonance, so that by the time you hear it again, at the conclusion, it is subtly altered. It is the same and not the same, a note that has soared to the heavens and veered into the abyss, returning with the tastes and smells of those two places seared to its wings.

So, too, with the opening and closing of this film, the death of 80-year-old German industrialist Hans Wiek, who returns with his family to Budapest’s Szabo’s, his favorite restaurant from his wartime years stationed there. He eats his beloved Beef Rolls, listens to his requested melody, “Gloomy Sunday,” and then promptly keels over and dies. His final glance is at the portrait of a beautiful woman taken many, many years earlier.

That young and beautiful woman comes to life in the prolonged flashback that is our film, a saga of love, sacrifice, loyalty, and betrayal. Where vengeance is a dish best served cold.

But of course, we open before the “ceremony of innocence is drowned,” before the tide assumes its crimson shadows. Laszlo Szabo (Joachim Krol) has as much passion for his restaurant as he does for his lover,the beautiful Ilona(Erika Marozsan) who is his assistant and gracious hostess They share a bath together, where he seduces her with tastes of his sauces on the tray between them. It is easy to see why the beauty adores this plain man with a zest for living and an outsized joie de vivre

Enter the brooding piano player they hire to entertain their diners and things begin to fall apart. That Ilona falls for the smitten Andras (Stefano Dionisi) is only mitigated by her honesty about it. There is no slinking off to dark alleys to meet him; their trysts are no secret from Laszlo, who in the mean time, has to comfort another who has fallen to Ilona’s charms. He saves the very awkward German Hans (Ben Becker) from the cold waters of the Danube he has cast himself into after Ilona refuses his impromptu marriage proposal. 

One cannot help but love the big-hearted Laszlo, heart-broken himself as a dries off Hans like the angel Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, comforting him with descriptions of Hans’ favorite Beef Rolls. He recites the recipe as lovingly as a mother does a lullaby to reassure at child awakened by a terrifying nightmare.

And it is a nightmare that follows. When three years later Hans returns from Germany to Budapest, he is no longer an awkward youth, but a full-fledged Colonel in the SS, though he is all smiles and courtesy to his onetime savior Laszlo. But behind that frozen smile we detect the acrid smell of the Holocaust smoldering in the not too distant shores of that same Danube as it washes onto Germany’s banks. 

Outwardly, too, the ménage à trios reluctantly accepted by Laszlo and Andras because each would rather have a part of the lovely Ilona than none at all, is taking its toll on both men, if not on Ilona herself, who sees the unvoiced agony in each. Andras pours his angst into his sole composition, “Gloomy Sunday,” and it is so beautifully mournful that a slew of listeners make it their final earful, the Victrola needle spiraling silently as they end their lives.

Here, the somewhat truthful history of this song merges with urban legends to fling us into full flown melodrama. Though it is not overtly suggested, a more reasonable explanation for these deaths seems to be the horrible onslaught on the World War II and the harsh Nazi occupation of Europe. 

An occupation that threatens Laszlo, a Jew from birth. Are we to be reassured by Hans’ promise to keep his old benefactor from harm? As the orders arrive, and the whistles blow, while we see trainloads of Hungarian Jews herded into railway cars, we understand Laszlo’s reason for keeping a vial of poison at the ready atop his piano.

Don’t let the title of this film keep you away. Just like the haunting melody that is its namesake, the film and its unforgettable characters will stay with you for a very long time.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

In a world of disorder, where all the certainties of life are slowly dissolving, no wonder Szabo’s Restaurant in Budapest remains full. The kaki green of the foreign soldiers may stain the street; they may even invade the restaurant, but one can concentrate on the pure white linen tablecloths, the soft candlelight and the exquisite cuisine. 

Especially the Hungarian Beef Rolls,that miraculous combination of sirloin, Prosciutto ham, and cheese, so aptly described by Laszlo Szabo himself:

... And then when you cut into the slice of roulade, your tongue is tantalized by the three separate tastes. They are so different and go so well together that with the next bite, you’ll be sure to get all three on your fork.

Here’s what Nova Scotia food columnist Nadine Fownes has to say about the food and the film:

Released in 1999, ‘Gloomy Sunday” tells story behind the wartime song of the same name. The song, written in 1933, became known as the Hungarian Suicide Song because, as legend has it, distraught lovers all over Europe were driven to end their lives upon hearing its haunting melody. 

Food is important because much of the action takes place at a little restaurant in 1930s Budapest called Szabo's. Patrons throng to Szabo's for two things: to hear the restaurant's pianist, Andras, play his famous song, and to dine on Szabo's signature dish, the Magyar roulade. So good is this recipe for Hungarian beef roll filled with ham and cheese, that it has the power to save lives - and take them away.

The recipe is not simple, but the results are certainly worth the time and effort for those willing to roll up their sleeves.

Jó étvágyat!

Hungarian Beef Roll

  • 1 large top sirloin steak (or use 4 beef tenderloin steaks for individual roulades)

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped

  • olive oil

  • splash of balsamic vinegar, about 15 ml (1 tbsp)

  • freshly squeezed juice of one lemon

For the filling:

  • Dijon mustard

  • Thinly sliced prosciutto ham

  • Baby spinach leaves

  • 1 jar flame-roasted red peppers, drained well and patted dry (or you can roast your own)

  • thinly sliced havarti cheese

  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (NOT the powdered type sold in shaker-cans)

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • butcher’s twine

For frying:

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed, but essentially left whole

  • olive oil

  • butter

Place steak between two sturdy sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with a meat mallet until meat is about 1.5 cm (half an inch) thick all over. Try to pound it out to a nice, rectangular shape if possible.

Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a large glass baking dish, pour in an equal amount of lemon juice, add the crushed, chopped garlic and balsamic vinegar and whisk together. Place steak in the dish, turning it to ensure the meat is well-coated on all sides.

Set aside in the fridge to marinate for at least 30-minutes or up to several hours. (I have left this in the fridge as long as overnight, but the garlic flavour becomes quite pronounced.)

When you’re ready to fill the steak, spread it out on a clean countertop and brush a generous spoonful of Dijon mustard all over the meat. Starting with the prosciutto ham, start layering the fillings over the meat. Follow with the spinach leaves, roasted red peppers and cheese, leaving about an inch of space on one long edge of the steak.

Finally, sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Now, carefully and tightly roll up the roulade, tucking in any stray bits of filling that squeeze out the sides. Place the roulade seam-down down on a cutting board. Cut a long piece of butcher’s twine and use it to securely wrap and tie the beef roll so it doesn’t fall apart.

Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Melt a generous knob of butter and an equal amount of olive oil, enough that the skillet is well-coated with butter and oil. Add the crushed, whole clove of garlic and gently sauté it in the butter and oil, just long enough to scent and flavour the butter and oil. Sear the beef on all sides till well-browned, then pop the pan in the oven to roast for about 20 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 160 F. Remove from oven, transfer roulade to a platter, tent with foil and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes while you make the sauce.

For the mushroom sauce:

  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter

  • 8 oz. pkg cremini mushrooms, sliced

  • 1-2 shallots, peeled and finely diced

  • 50 ml (one quarter cup) white wine

  • 50 ml (one quarter cup) chicken stock

  • 50 ml (one quarter cup) heavy cream

  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and sauté until mushrooms are golden and most of their moisture has evaporated. Pour in white wine and chicken stock and let cook until reduced by half. Stir in cream, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until slightly thickened.

To serve:

Remove butcher’s twine from roulade, cut roulade into slices and arrange on a platter. Scatter with chopped parsley and serve warm with mushroom sauce.

Between sheets of plastic wrap, pound steak as flat as you can.

Marinate the steak for at least a half-hour in a simple mixture of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper.

Layer Dijon mustard, prosciutto, spinach, roasted red peppers and cheese over the steak

Carefully and tightly roll up the steak. Tie it with butcher's twine so it holds its shape.

In a hot pan, sear the steak on all sides to seal in the juices. Then finish by roasting in a 450 F oven for about 20 minutes.

After roasting, be sure to let the meat rest for a few minutes so the juices can settle back into the meat. Remove the butcher's twine, carve the roulade into slices and arrange on a platter.

Recipe Source: Chowder and Biscuits Blogspot