(Polish hunter's stew of meat, cabbage and sauerkraut)
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The national dish of Poland, bigos is an amazing melange of meats and sausages slowly braised over a bed of mellow sauerkraut. Bigos is a popular cold-weather dish in Poland where it provided a handy way of using cabbage that was put up before winter set in. Bigos is a favorite meal for the day after Christmas and is also popular in Lithuania and Belarus.
Large batches of this hearty stew were traditionally cooked up and then frozen in batches — often outdoors — to be eaten at a later date. The dish improves in flavor over time, so ideally you should cook it two or three days before you plan to serve it.
6 to 8 servings
- Oil -- 2 tablespoons
- Slab bacon or salt pork, sliced 1/4-inch thick -- 1/2 pound
- Kielbasa sausage -- 1 pound
- Beef or pork stew meat -- 1 1/2 pounds
- Onions, chopped -- 2
- Dried mushrooms, soaked in warm water -- 4 ounces
- Cabbage, shredded -- 1 (2-pound) head
- Sauerkraut, rinsed well and squeezed dry -- 2 pounds
- Tomatoes, chopped -- 1 cup
- Chicken stock or water -- 2 to 3 cups
- Caraway seeds -- 1 tablespoon
- Juniper berries -- 6 to 8
- Peppercorns -- 8 to 10
- Salt -- to taste
- Preheat oven to 275°F. Heat the oil over medium flame in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the bacon or salt pork and saute until the meat renders its fat and begins to brown. Remove to a large dish. Add the sausage to the pot and brown it on all sides. Remove to the bowl with the bacon or salt pork. Finally brown and then remove the stew meat.
- Pour any excess fat from the pot, leaving 3 or 4 tablespoons. Add the onions and saute until cooked through and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Drain the mushrooms, straining and retaining the soaking water, and stir them into the pot along with the cabbage. Saute until the cabbage is softened and wilted.
- Stir in the mushroom soaking water and the remaining ingredients, adding enough stock or water to come just below the top of the cabbage and sauerkraut. Bring to a boil and add back the bacon or salt pork, sausages and browned meats, burying them in the cabbage.
- Cover tightly with an ovenproof lid and place in the oven. Bake for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, adding more stock or water as needed to keep the dish moist.
- Remove the pot from the oven and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately with rye bread and roasted or boiled potatoes. Or for even better flavor, refrigerate for 2 to 3 days before serving.
- Meats for Bigos: All sorts of meats find their way into bigos. Add chopped ham or cured, smoked ham hocks. Toss in leftovers like beef or pork roast. Add game meats like venison to make it a true hunter's stew.
- Other Additions: Add 1 cup of white or red wine for even more flavor. Some cooks stir in 4 or 5 dried plums or chopped fresh apples.
- If you don't have dried mushrooms, you can eliminate them or substitute 2 cups of sliced fresh mushrooms instead. Saute fresh mushrooms with the onions.