Thursday, January 23, 2014

52WoC Week 2: Polish - Bigos (Hunter's Stew)

If you asked my heritage, I'd call myself Polish—Polish-American1, obviously, like Frank Sobotka—but frankly2, I have very limited experience with Polish food. The closest my family ever got was the occasional kielbasa, and the first time I ever had pierogis was at Appel dining hall. Apart from these two Polish-American staples3, my life has been woefully devoid of chow from the motherland…until Week 2 of 52WoC, that is!

In choosing my dish for the week, I wanted to go Full Polish4. Follow me now, on my layman's journey…search Wikipedia for 'Polish cuisine'…first national dish listed is bigos…a stew of cabbage, sauerkraut, kielbasa, bacon, mushrooms…served with potatoes for chrissakes!…yup, sounds Polish enough to me!

In the next few sections, I'm gonna write about bigos like I know what I'm talking about—I've looked at like 8 recipes and I'm an internet expert now, goddammit! —anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, bigos. Bigos, sometimes called hunter's stew, is a clusterfuck in the best sense possible. Everyone's got a different recipe, with the main players being heaps of smoked meat, sauerkraut, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, tomato, wine or beer, spices, and even prunes. In essence, given the long list of potential ingredients, you can add what you like or what you've got. The recipe below is largely a reflection of what I had on hand, but it turned out a damned tasty stew.


1 ozdried porcini mushrooms
  1. Cover porcinis in hot water and soak.
8 ozbacon, diced
  1. Render bacon in large pot until crispy. Scoop bacon out, add pork cubes and brown them in the leftover fat. Remove pork from the pot.
12 ozpork butt, cubed
1 smallcabbage, chopped
  1. Add cabbage and onions to pot and cook over medium-high heat until softened. Mix in tomato paste and cook for a minute, then add everything except the prunes (including the mushrooms and with soaking liquid). Simmer for at least 2 hours, adding more liquid if stew dries out too much.
1 largeonion, chopped
2 tbsptomato paste
16 ozsauerkraut with liquid
12 ozkielbasa
2 tsppeppercorns, crushed
1 tspallspice berries, crushed
1bay leaf
¾ cupprunes, quartered
  1. 30 minutes before serving, remove kielbasa, cut it up and add it back to the pot with the prunes. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Start by soaking the porcinis in enough hot water to cover. While the mushrooms do their thing, start rendering the diced bacon over medium-low heat. Once it's gotten sufficiently crispy, fish it out with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving behind the rendered fat. Crank up the heat and add the cubed pork to the pot, browning the cubes on each side. Make sure you've got the heat high enough to actually get some good browning, it will contribute depth to the stew. Once it's browned, pull out the pork and set it aside with the bacon.

Toss in the cabbage and onions and cook them down until they've softened and started to dry out. Mix in the tomato paste and cook in for a minute or so, then add the sauerkraut with its liquid, the mushrooms with their liquid, and the kielbasa, peppercorns, allspice, and bay leaf. Simmer gently for at least 2 hours. For best results, cool and refrigerate overnight, then simmer again for a few hours the next day before serving. You can even continue this process throughout the week, the stew will only get better with time. 30 minutes before serving, remove the kielbasa and cut it up and add it back to the pot with the prunes, and continue simmering. Serve in a bed of mashed potatoes for maximum Polish points.

  1. To be precise, I'm a mutt. 

  2. Har har. 

  3. Actually, I have had golumpki (gołąbki) before. The only reason I know about them is from a 'share your heritage' thing in elementary school, and it wasn't even me who brough them in! (Shout out to Cody Chaszczewski! Yep, he's definitely Polish.) I do occasionally make pierogis nowadays though, so my Polish quotient is on the rise. 

  4. Always go Full Polish. 

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