Bigos is considered the national dish of Poland. It’s a hearty, long-simmered meat-and-sauerkraut stew that goes back centuries. It was traditionally served at the start of the hunting season, from fall through Shrove Tuesday, or until the family’s supply of barrel-cured sauerkraut ran out! Today, it’s enjoyed year-round.
Any combination of game, beef, pork, poultry and vegetables works. This recipe is just one version. Bigos also is an excellent way to use up leftover cooked meats, and for the family hunter’s quota of venison.
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 ounce dried Polish or porcini mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small head fresh cabbage, chopped
1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed well and drained
1/2 pound smoked Polish sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound cooked fresh Polish sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound leftover boneless meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup dry red wine, preferably Madeira
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste
Place prunes and dried mushrooms in a medium bowl. Pour over boiling water and let steep for 30 minutes or until mushrooms have softened. You may chop the mushrooms and prunes, but leaving them whole makes for a chunkier dish. Set aside with soaking liquid.
Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or large pot with a lid, saute onion and fresh cabbage in bacon drippings or vegetable oil. When cabbage has collapsed by half, add sauerkraut, meats, tomatoes, wine, bay leaf and reserved mushrooms and prunes and their soaking liquid, being careful not to pour off the sediment in the bottom of the bowl.
Mix well and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to low and simmer covered for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding liquid as needed to prevent burning.
When ready to serve, remove bay leaf and any bones from meats. Portion into heated bowls and garnish with a piece of “frisee” or other fancy greens to resemble the feather in a hunter’s hat. Accompany with whole, peeled and boiled potatoes.
The longer this cooks the better it tastes, and it’s even better served the next day. It’s a natural for outdoors cooking in a cast-iron kettle winter or summer. The dish lends itself well to potlucks and tailgate parties, slow cookers and freezes well.