Bigos, also known as Polish hunter’s stew, is a hearty autumn and winter dish made with various bits of chopped meats cooked with sauerkraut and fresh cabbage. The sauerkraut’s sharpness is tempered somewhat by the fresh cabbage, but it can be made only using fresh cabbage, if you prefer. As with most stews, the longer it’s cooked, the better it is. It’s even better the next day and continues to improve the more often it’s reheated. As this recipe makes a lot, you can freeze some to have later.
1 kg (2 lbs) sauerkraut, preferably made with salt brine
half a medium head of cabbage, shredded (about 500 g (1 lb))
250 g (½ lb.) bacon, sliced fine
Lard OR other fat for sautéing, such as butter or vegetable oil, as needed
250 g (½ lb.) beef chuck or round, cut into 2 cm (¾-inch) pieces
250 g (½ lb.) pork shoulder or belly, cut into 2 cm (¾-inch) pieces
200 g (7 oz.) kielbasa sausage, sliced thin
Handful of dried mushrooms, broken into pieces (half a 14 g packet) OR 75 g fresh mushrooms, sliced (about 250 ml or 1 cup)
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
5 prunes, chopped and rehydrated in boiling water, drained (optional)
1 bay leaf
5 ml (1 teaspoon) dried marjoram
5 ml (1 teaspoon) caraway seeds, lightly crushed
15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tablespoons) sweet paprika (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
As a main: potatoes (boiled or mashed), potato pierogis, or rye bread
As side: schnitzel or roast meats.
In a large pot, boil the sauerkraut in half a litre of water (about 2 cups), uncovered for about 15 minutes. In a second pot, add the cabbage and pour in just enough water to not quite cover; boil, uncovered, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
As the cabbages boil, sauté the bacon to render the fat then remove the meat and set aside. Brown the pork and beef in the bacon fat, adding lard or other cooking fat, if necessary. Keep the meat with the cooked bacon and reserve the cooking juices. If you’re using fresh mushrooms, sauté them (with garlic, if using).
In the larger of the two pots, combine the cabbage and sauerkraut and their cooking waters, cooked meats and their juices, sausage, mushrooms (dried or sautéed), prunes (if using), bay leaf and spices.
Bring the uncovered pot to the boil and keep it there for 10 minutes, then lower the heat and let simmer, still uncovered, for 1 hour (or longer, if you wish), stirring occasionally, being sure to add water if you think the pot boil may dry. It should be sour, but balance flavours to taste.
• All Cabbage/No sauerkraut: Instead of using sauerkraut, use a whole head of cabbage, sliced thin.
• Different meats: Substitute or mix in different cuts of pork and beef (including ribs), veal, poultry or game.
• Vegetarian: Instead of meat, use 150 to 225 g (500 to 750 ml or 2 to 3 cups) of sautéed fresh mushrooms, and add carrots, potatoes, and onions.