Ahhh, bigos. Is there anything more hearty or traditional? I think not. Bigos, or hunter’s stew is considered by many to be the national dish of Poland. However, you’d be hard pressed to find two identical family recipes for bigos, and quite frankly there is no wrong way to make this. As long as you have sauerkraut and some meat, you’re set. This is because bigos is a quintessential peasant dish—whatever ingredients people had available to them to feed their families went in! Food is fuel!!! Obviously, the availability of ingredients varied by region, city, and family, and that is why we ended up with 10 x 10^235 recipes of bigos.
You can add or omit any ingredient you want for this or any bigos recipe you stumble upon (except for the good quality, vinegar-free sauerkraut…there can be no compromise there as it is the base of the dish). Pork and beef are traditional, but there is no reason you can’t use chicken instead. Just don’t tell anyone if you do :p
There are a few things to note about this recipe and bigos in general. First, bigos tastes better when the flavors melt together after a few days, so the leftovers are great! Next, this dish freezes well, so you can store it for long periods of time. Also, this dish smells…well…potent. Your kitchen and fridge will smell like bigos, which isn’t really a bad thing, but the smell of sauerkraut isn’t as pleasant as a vanilla scented candle. Finally, when cooking or serving this dish around Polish parents and grandparents, prepare to hear their tales of preparing barrels and barrels of cabbage to be turned to sauerkraut in preparation for the cold, harsh Polish winters that lay ahead.
Cook this a day in advance if you can so that the flavors have time to develop. It tastes delicious even if you serve the day of.
- 2 jars (45-60 oz total) of good quality Polish or German Sauerkraut, drained (NO VINEGAR!)
- 1 pound of Polish kielbasa, cubed
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 1 stalk of leeks, thinly sliced
- 1 large carrot or 2-3 small carrots, grated
- 1 green apple, grated
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ ounce of dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped with liquid saved (1 cup of shredded or sliced fresh mushrooms work too)
- ½ cup stock of choice
- ½ tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp whole juniper berries
- Salt and pepper
- 3 tbsps butter
- (optional) 2 tbsps tomato paste
1. In a large pot, heat 2 tbsps butter on medium heat and add onions, leeks, carrots, garlic, apple, mushrooms for 10-15 minutes until ingredients have softened.
2. To the pot, add drained sauerkraut (you don’t need to squeeze out liquid, just strain out some excess), stock, liquid from dried mushrooms, optional tomato paste, bay leaves, juniper berries, caraway seeds, salt and A LOT of black pepper.
3. In a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp of butter on medium heat and add your cubed meat. Let the sausage brown and crisp on the sides and add it to the large pot of bigos. Let everything simmer together for 45-55 minutes.
4. Serve with good rye or sourdough bread and enjoy.