Bigos, A Traditional Polish Recipe
Bigos: a hunter's stew of meat and sauerkraut
If I had to name one recipe that is the national dish of Poland I would not hesitate to name bigos. Poles are so fond of this stew of sauerkraut and meats that the greatest Polish Poet, Adam Mickiewicz, included an ode to it in his epic work Pan Tadeusz. It is called a hunter's stew because it was traditionally prepared on hunting trips. Cabbage and cured and smoked meats were taken by the hunters, and were then cooked with wild mushrooms and whatever meat was killed in the forest.
The more different types of meat, chicken, pork, beef or game that you add to bigos the better it is. It is an excellent way of using up leftover roasts, but if you are cooking the meat from scratch, just add some vegetables such as carrots, onion and celery, cover the meat with water and simmer until it is done, as you would cook chicken soup. When the meat is cooked, cut it into strips and use the stock for cooking the sauerkraut.
Bigos keeps very well in the fridge, and is much better when reheated, so it is worth making double the quantity. As with most national dishes, each family has a slightly different version of cooking it. Common additions include red wine, tomato paste, or prunes. There is even a Lithuanian version which uses cabbage instead of sauerkraut. This version was made in my family, it is simple but I think it has a great balance between the sour cabbage, the smokiness of the bacon and the savoury meat.
- 1 onion
- 2 lbs Sauerkraut
- 1 lb mixed cooked meat cut into strips, the more different types of meat the better
- 1/4 lb smoked bacon in one piece, Polish bacon or Italian pancetta have a better cured flavour
- 1/4 lb smoked kielbasa sausage or ham, In Poland kielbasa is the generic name for sausage
- 1cup meat or vegetabel stock
- 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, also known as cep mushrooms
- 2 allspice seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- Start by chopping the onion, bacon and kielbasa sausage or ham.
- Fry the onion and smoked meats on medium heat for 10 minutes until the onion i soft and the fat is rendered from the bacon
- Meanwhile cover the dried porcini mushroom with boiling water to soften them
- Drain the sauerkraut, keep the brine solution in case the bigos ends up not sour enough.
- Add the sour cabbage, cooked meet, soaked mushrooms, bay leaves and allspice to the onion/bacon mixtures. Cover with water in which the mushrooms soaked and the stock and simmer gently for 1hr 30 minutes.
- Stir several times during the cooking to make sure the bigos doesn't stick. If it looks like there is not enough liquid add some stock or water. At the end of cooking season to taste with plenty of black pepper and sugar. It will probably not need more salt because the sauerkraut is salty. If it is not sour enough add some of the sauerkraut brine.
- Serve with boiled potatoes or good bread. Frozen vodka is the traditional accompaniment but you might prefer red wine