Bigos, known in the English world as hunter's stew, is one of those Polish food recipes that no holiday, except for Polish Christmas, or family gathering in Poland can do without. Fairly simple to make yet delicious, it's what made German sauerkraut famous, or at least eatable!
Based on sauerkraut and a mix of various meats, bigos is a dish you can experiment with a lot and it won't bite you in the butt when something goes wrong. It can be made to taste sour, or it can have a zesty, sweet taste to it. What's more, its flavor and consistency evolves over time, for better, not for worse. While you might have seen more complicated recipes with much longer lists of ingredients than this, bigos is a work of art, unique to individual regions and even households. The simple truth is it is really hard to screw up and not make bigos that is delicious. So please give it a try.
- 3 pounds of sauerkraut
- 2 pounds of meat (pork or beef)
- Polish white sausage
- Polish smoked sausage
- A few carrots
- 1 - 2 onions
- a few tomatoes
- tomato paste
- 4-6 bay leaves
- allspice seeds
- dried plums
After a period of high heat stir frying, add chopped carrots, tomatoes, cloves of garlic, finely chopped plums, bay leaves, allspice seeds (5-6), some salt and pepper for flavor (you will tinker with it later). Mix it all up, lower the burner, cover the pot and let it simmer for an hour or so (gives time for the harder to cook meats to soften up).After about an hour, hour and a half, you're ready to add sauerkraut. If you don't want your bigos to be too sour, you may want to run the sauerkraut through some water first or at least squeeze out some of the excess juice before dumping it in the pot and mixing it with other ingredients. Cover the pot and continue to simmer for another 2 - 3 hours.
From time to time check on your stew to make sure you have enough water in the pot - there should be enough juice just from the ingredients alone but you can always add some water or beef/vegetable broth. Also, the sauerkraut will produce some as well. Basically, you don't want your bigos to burn, you want it to cook in its own juices. While at it, give it a good stir.
About an hour into cooking the sauerkraut, add a table spoon of tomato paste and mix well. The paste gives bigos additional flavor as well as reddish coloring.
Once you notice that the sauerkraut is beginning to soften up, have a taste to get an idea what spices are lacking. If you think it needs to be a little sweeter, add a couple of tea spoons of sugar. Do be careful with adding too much salt.
Once the sauerkraut is soft and mushy, your hunter's stew is ready to be served with a side of crushed or whole potatoes. Bon appetit!