Bigos – Hunter’s Stew
Bigos has been eaten by the Polish for many centuries- it is approximately 700 years old. When speaking to my dad about its meaning he said the word ‘bigos’ signifies a combination or mixture of ingredients, similar to a mess.
As a child I have fond memories of family gatherings where bigos was one of the feature dishes. I would eagerly wait for my bowl and dip mum’s rye bread into the rich and flavoursome sauce.
Whilst there are basic components like sauerkraut, onion, mushrooms and meat, there is no right way of making bigos and you will see that it varies from family to family. My mum’s bigos has evolved over the last 30 years, from adding tomato paste to not adding it; from making it a runny stew to making it a dry stew… and the changes go on.
The dish is best made to a large consistency, and it tastes so much better with time. Yes, you can eat it within a few hours of cooking it, however the taste develops as it stands. I would normally give it 1-2 days, although it never lasts that long!
My tips for making this dish:
1) use good quality sauerkraut and to me nothing beats Krakus Sauerkraut!
2) don’t over-liquid the cooking process. Remember that this is a dry stew so it’s not meant to be covered in water.
3) it is best eaten on the 2nd day!
4) eat it with rye or sourdough bread with a bottle of Zywiec- a Polish beer.
Preparation time: 45 minutes approximately
Cooking time: 2-3 hours approximately – it tastes better with time!
Serves: 6-8 people depending on servings
10 dried mushrooms – such as slippery Jacks or porcini
250g pork neck
250g lean beef (I use large beef chunks)
500g white fresh cabbage
500g sauerkraut (Krakus brand preferably)
2 bay leaves
Oil for frying
200g smoked speck, cut into 1cm pieces
2 onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup tomato passata
1) Start off by soaking the dried mushrooms in boiling water. I use my dried slippery Jacks which I pick on my mushroom picking trips. It does not matter if you don’t have slippery Jacks, you can easily use porcini mushrooms as they are from the same Boletus family.
2) Add the pork neck and beef to a pot of boiling water and boil it for approximately 15 minutes, until they are cooked through. You need enough water to ensure that the meat is covered. Cut the beef and pork neck into 1cm pieces and set aside. It is important to save the meat stock as you will need this for the next step.
3) Cut the cabbage into small shavings. Add the cabbage to a large stock pot, then add the meat stock and cook it until it is just soft. It is not necessary to cook it for long as the whole cooking process takes about 2-3 hours.
4) Wash the sauerkraut in water. This ensures that you get rid of the extra sourness. You want that kick, but you don’t want the bigos overpowered by the sauerkraut. I generally wash it at least twice and give the sauerkraut a good squeeze to get rid of the extra juices. Once the sauerkraut is quite dry, chop it roughly.
Add the sauerkraut to the fresh cabbage that is cooking down in the stock pot. If it is too dry I add a little water or add the stock from the dried mushrooms. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer.
5) Thinly slice the dried prunes and mushrooms and add to the cabbage/sauerkraut mixture, along with the 2 bay leaves.
6) To a separate frying pan add oil and smoked speck and start to brown it off. Add onion and continue to brown this off. When you see the onion turn translucent add the pork neck and beef to the pan and brown this off quite well. You don’t want the meat burnt but you do want it to have a brown smoky tinge to it.
7) Add the meat and onion mixture to the cabbage cooking down in the stock pot, mix well and season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato passata to the pot. Remember that this is a dry stew so it does not need to be covered up in stock. You need to let it slow cook on low heat for about 2-3 hours, stirring it occasionally.
Eat and enjoy!