Bigos, or traditional Polish Hunter's Stew, is one of those homey recipes that changes from home to home. In fact, in From A Polish Country House Kitchen, Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden describe the stew as Poland's version of chili—long stewed meat with a suggestion of vegetable served with thick rustic bread. Their take blends pork, venison, beef, veal, and sausage with cabbage, sauerkraut, and mushrooms for a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, hearty meal for the meatiest of meat lovers. In other words, it's an awesome addition to your late winter repertoire.
Why I picked this recipe: I have never simmered sauerkraut in a meat stew, and what better way to try it than the meatiest of meat stews?
What worked: The tanginess of the sauerkraut and sweetness of the prunes marries effortlessly with the tender meats.
What didn't: No problems here.
Suggested tweaks: The choice in meat is truly up to you. Don't feel comfortable cooking veal? Use pork. Can't find venison? Substitute any slightly gamey meat, like lamb.
Reprinted with permission from From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food By Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden, copyright 2012. Published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:serves 8 to 10
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
- 1 3/4 lb (800 g) sauerkraut
- 4 strips bacon or, even better, 4 thin slices Canadian bacon, diced
- 1 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced
- Small handful of dried wild mushrooms (any kind)
- 1/2 lb (225 g) boneless venison, leg, or a stewing cut (not the loin), cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
- 1/2 lb (225 g) boneless stew beef, such as chuck, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
- 1/2 lb (225 g) pork or veal shoulder, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
- 1/4 cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup (240 ml) dry red wine
- 1/2 lb (225 g) smoked kielbasa or another spicy hard sausage, thickly sliced
- 1 cup (225 g) pitted prunes, quartered
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Bread for serving, preferably rustic and dark, such as a Russian loaf
Drain the sauerkraut, place it in a medium saucepan, and add 2 cups (480 ml) water and bacon pieces. Cover and boil over medium heat for 20 minutes or longer, until the sauerkraut is very tender and the bacon is cooked.
Meanwhile, put the fresh cabbage and dried mushrooms in a separate large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the cabbage is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Rinse all the meat and pat dry. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and toss the meat to coat.
Heat 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium heat in a stew pot large enough to hold all the meat and vegetables. Cook the onion until softened, remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pot and lightly brown the meat, in batches, over medium heat, 2 to 3 minutes per side, transferring the meat to a plate when it’s done.
When all the meat has been browned, raise the heat to high, pour in the wine, and boil briefly, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Return the meat and all its resting juices back to the pot, and add the onion, kielbasa, prunes, cabbage, and the sauerkraut and bacon mixture, along with its cooking water. Salt generously, add several grinds of pepper, and bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat, cover the pot with the lid slightly askew, and simmer on very low heat for a good 2 to 3 hours, until the meat falls apart and the broth is rich and brown. Stir the stew occasionally, and ensure that the liquid isn’t evaporating too quickly (add a small amount of water when necessary). Some like a watery bigos, but we find the tastiest outcome is for the sauerkraut, cabbage, and meat all to be practically melted together, with enough sauce to keep everything moist, but not so much that any of the ingredients float, as in a more traditional stew.
Serve in a large casserole with a big spoon and thick slices of dark peasant bread. You’ll of course need utensils, but the fun of it is to shovel the bigos and its juices on to the bread. Bigos lasts forever, and gets better with time. One of Anne’s friends routinely makes this on Wednesday to serve on Saturday night, and swears that it improves every day.