11 January 2011

Bigos At My House

The "Big Stuff", my husband calls it.  That's because when we make Bigos at my house, we make a large pot of it.  We have to.  On the first day, we each eat at least two bowls of it.  Then, when it has sat in the refrigerator with it's flavors mellowing and blending more together, we eat more the next day.  If we have any leftovers, we freeze them for a day when I don't want to cook.

Bigos (pronounced Bee-Gohss) is a very simple dish with different variations throughout the Slavic countries.  In English, it would be a Polish Sauerkraut Stew, or more accurately to it's heritage, Hunter's Stew.  The reason it is called Hunter's Stew by Polish speakers is because when hunters would go into the forest, they would often be gone for several days, with only a few simple ingredients to feed themselves and whatever they would catch.  Since Bigos is the type of dish that just gets tastier and tastier the longer it cooks, it was the perfect dish for hunters to cook over a campfire, tossing in bits of meat and other various ingredients now and then.

I grew up with my father's Bigos, although when I was able to have my Ciocia's and, especially, Babcia's Bigos, I have to admit they were exceptionally delicious as well.

Every time I have ever attempted to make Bigos, it was delicious, passable for sure, but just not the same as theirs.  So, Bigos in my house is a multi-generational and multi-cook dish.  Yesterday, my father and I collaborated on a large crock pot worth which everyone is looking forward to enjoying tonight for dinner (don't tell them but I already had a bowl, I couldn't resist).  I just hope that one day I can make it without him and have it be so Pyszne (pronounced Pish-neh and meaning Delicous). 


Fresh Cabbage
Jar Sauerkraut
Kielbasa (fresh or smoked, your preference)
Pork (whatever cuts you have, I had leftover pork shoulder)
Bacon, cubed
Tomato Paste
2-3 peeled, diced Potatoes
Carrot, peeled and cut into thick slices or grated
Dried Mushrooms
3-5 sliced Sliwki (Prunes)
Onion (I either use 1/2 Sweet Onion caramelized or a 1/2 teaspoon of Dried Onion)
a splash of Soy Sauce
Bay Leaves (we use 3)
a pinch of ground Allspice or a couple of berries
a handful of fresh Curly Parsley
a pinch of Celery Seeds
a pinch of Dill Seeds
a pinch of Caraway Seeds
one teaspoon of Paprika
one clove of Garlic, crushed or chopped
a Teaspoon of Marjoram
one to two teaspoons of Vegeta

The spices are based mostly on family preference and tradition but the basic formula consists of some combination of these.  You can also purchase a packet of Bigos Spice Mix at a local Polish store or online.

Dice the Cabbage to about the same size strips as the Sauerkraut. 

Add the Cabbage and Sauerkraut, with the juices, to the pot or crock pot.

Add a couple of diced, peeled potatoes.

Soak Mushrooms in water until soft.  Squeeze out water, chop into pieces and add Mushrooms and water to the pot.

Steam or cook the Kielbasa if it is fresh.  Slice into circles or cube, your preference.  Add it and the juices to the crock pot.

Cube Bacon and Pork and add to the pot.

Mix all ingredients in the crock pot.

Cook on low for several hours, stirring occasionally.

Enjoy with a slice of good bread and butter.  Smacznego!


Alena said...

I cooked this yesterday and it came out nice. Thanks for sharing!

Gaviota said...

I am working on a project and I need to know if this dish would have been eaten in Poland durning the war years (1939-1945). Many thanks for your help and for the recipe!

Unknown said...

My mouth is watering at the very thought of Bigos!

Anonymous said...

@Gaviota: Yes, bigos would have been eaten any time, especially during the war (1945-1945) or winter months, but often in a much poorer version, using only a part of the ingredients, all the way down to no meat at all and no fresh vegetables. In fact, a lent version of bigos, with just dried mushrooms, no (animal) fat, is a staple for Christmas Eve Supper even currently. Spices were also rare and nobody heard of Vegeta (I do not recommend it, since it contains MSG) or soy sauce. During the war everybody cooked with whatever they could arrange for, even almost nothing (e.g. "zupa na gwozdziu" (= nail soup), using any scraps). Country folks would use herbs such as lovage and basil instead of soy sauce and Vegeta, but not in winter. In my family potatoes were never cooked inside bigos, always as a side dish and we did not put so many vegetables and spices. Ingredients were precooked and often fast fried prior to combining and simmering. We just used bay leaves, allspice, and black pepper, no garlic, no paprika, no other seeds (dill, celery) than caraway, if at all, no prunes. On the other hand, we would put several types of meat, up to seven types for a New Year's Eve festive bigos. I doubt hunters carried so many vegetables and spices with them and in fact, the hunter's stew would ferment (or go bad) much earlier with so many fresh vegetables.

Unknown said...

@Gaviota, thanks for sharing. This is just one version I shared of the recipe and it is a modern spin on the traditional recipe. I believe I noted in the recipe above, but perhaps forgot to, about my father's opinion of soy sauce and Vegeta based on him growing up in post WWII USSR controlled Poland. It's why I mention it in the recipe but I also prefer to not use it myself. Cheers and thanks for stopping by!