Bigos is often called Poland’s national dish. It is served at every large gathering: christenings, weddings, funerals and every other excuse for getting together for food and drink. It is best made in advance by at least a day and then reheated. My father used to talk about using a horse and cart to take large wooden barrels of bigos to where there was going to be a celebration.
It is Poland’s sweet and sour dish using sweet (fresh) cabbage and sour (sauerkraut) cabbage. How sweet and sour you make it depends on taste, I always use roughly equal amounts of fresh and sour cabbage – a large white cabbage to a large tin or jar of sauerkraut. You can add sugar or some lemon juice to alter the sweet/sour balance.
This was a Hunter’s stew with all the meat and game that was available in the long hard winters going into the pot with the cabbage. A variety of mixed fresh and smoked meats and sausages are used, the amount can vary with how much meat you have.
Served with rye bread with or without butter and a glass of beer or vodka, it is delicious.
The mixture of cabbage and tomato in bigos is very Polish, as a little girl I thought that cooked cabbage was always orange to red rather that pale to dark green as my mother always used the two together in all her cabbage recipes.
Tomatoes were brought to Poland in the 16th century by the Italian chefs who came with the Italian Princess Bona Sforza who married the Polish King, Zygmunt the Old. The Polish word for tomato – pomidor, shows its Italian origin.
I have many of these enamel pans they are good for slow cooking in the oven.
There are lots of variations you can make to the following recipe and everyone seems to have their own version. I find the following proportions work out very well every time and the bigos is moist but not like a soup.
This makes a large amount which is good for a family gathering.
Often I make this in advance and then portion it up into 4 parts and then pack these into large plastic bags or tubs and freeze them – so I always have some on hand. Note – the tomato stains the plastic tubs so I often put a bag inside a tub. I also then wrap the tub in another bag as the aroma is strong even when frozen and this stops it affecting other food in the freezer.
900g sauerkraut (1large tin or jar)
500g fresh white cabbage (1 large head)
200g to 400g Pork (shoulder or spare rib)
150 to 300g mixed smoked sausage such as kabanos, Polish ring or Frankfurters
150g smoked bacon
1 large onion
10g dried mushrooms
100g tomato purée (1/2 tube)
20g plain flour
2 bay leaves
3 to 4 peppercorns
sugar or lemon juice to taste –optional
fat/oil to fry in.
note – salt should not be needed as the sausage and bacon contain salt.
Put the sauerkraut in a large pan and add boiling water until it is covered and boil gently for 1 hour till it is soft. Take care not to let it boil dry and push the sauerkraut down occasionally so it stays under the water.
Finely chop the fresh cabbage into long strands and place in another large pan with the dried mushrooms, add water to cover the cabbage and boil till soft and as with the sauerkraut take care it does not boil dry.
Pre heat the oven to GM3– 150o C
Chop the pork into small cubes and fry till brown on all sides.
Chop the bacon into small squares.
Add 100g of the bacon and all the pork to the sauerkraut and boil gently till everything is soft.
Make crisp skwarki* with the rest of the bacon and add to the sauerkraut.
Chop the onion into small pieces and fry till golden, add the flour and fry till the mixture is just about to burn.
Add the cooked fresh cabbage with all the liquid and the fried onion mixture to the sauerkraut.
Slice up the various smoked sausage and add to the bigos.
Add the tomato purée, bay leaves and peppercorns.
You can add some sugar or lemon juice at this stage; this depends on how sour you like the bigos and often depends on the sauerkraut used. I rarely do either of these.
Now you can heat it all together gently over a low heat with a lid on the pan or put the mixture into a large oven proof dish; I use a large oval enamelled dish, and put it in the oven for about 3 hours.
Bigos tastes better if made one day, left overnight, and then reheated in the pan or in the dish in the oven.
*skwarki – small squares of bacon fried till the fat comes out and you are left with little crisp bits.