Recipe: Hunter’s Stew, also known as Bigos, is Poland’s national dish. If you go to Poland and not eat bigos, have you really been there? Never mind, even if you didn’t eat bigos in Poland, you can cook this yourself.
The great thing about the stew is it’s almost impossible to blotch it up. I dare not say “always impossible” because people can burn down the house while boiling pasta, so it’s best to leave some leeway for the outliers, also known as “idiots” according to Chan Chun Sing.
It’s almost impossible to screw up because of two reasons:
1. It is said that there are as many versions as there are cooks in Poland. Because there are so many versions, stuffy words like “authenticity” are thrown out the window, or should I say “defenestrate.” In other words, there is no reason to follow my recipe or any bigos recipe to the letter. Go ahead, innovate, invent, anyhow also can.
2. According to some food historians, bigos can be traced all the way back to late medieval period (1500s). All that people wanted back then was to live till the ripe old age of 40! They didn’t care about food the finicky way that we now do. So bigos is a forgiving, indelicate stew, unlike baking where you need exact measurements or the cake won’t rise. In this stew, you can just dump everything in and let it bubble. No need to watch over it. If you want, you can even use a slow cooker.
Bigos is really a stew of meats and sauerkraut. They used to use game meat in the past, but these days, you can just throw in any leftover meats in your freezer–because yes, it’s that easy.
Each culture has a preference for their food: Singaporeans like slightly sweet food, Malaysians like it salty, Polish likes it sourish and rustic as I mentioned previously. So the dominant flavour of bigos is an acidic sourness coming from sauerkraut. However, if you don’t like sour food, you can still adjust the flavours as I will tell you later in the recipe section.
Besides bigos being rustic and hearty, one good thing is that it keeps well. In fact, the longer you keep it, the better the flavours come out. Keep in fridge for a few days or the freezer for a few months. So you can make a big batch and just store it for future cravings.
Cooking time: 45 minutes preparation + 2 to 6 hours stewing
Serving size: 6 – 8 people
1. MEATS (feel free to change the meats. If you have leftover meat in your freezer, just use them! Don’t need to buy according to this list. Just take the weight into consideration.)
- beef short-rib, 500g, cut in 1.5-inch cubes
- boneless pork shoulder, 500g, cut in 1-inch cubes
- smoked sausages (Polish calls them kielbasa), 1 packet (about 400g), cut in 0.5-inch
- 3 big carrots, grated
- diced tomatoes, 2 cans (411g each)
- cabbage, 500g – 750g, shredded (this depends if you like sour, acidic food. If you do, keep to 500g, but if you don’t, use 750g)
- sauerkraut, 1 can (411g)
- salt and pepper to taste
- vegetable oil
- garlic, 4 cloves, finely chopped
- caraway seeds, 1.5 tablespoons
- ground allspice, 1 teaspoon
- large onion, sliced thin
- bay leaves, 3 pieces
4. OPTIONAL CARBS
- rye bread: traditionally eaten with rye bread in Poland, but who cares? You can also eat it with rice or noodles.
1. The first step is to sear the meats turn by turn. Pad the meats very dry with paper towel. First, season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy pot with oil over medium high fire. When the oil is hot, sear the pork on one side until golden brown, about 1-2 min each side. Sear all sides. When searing, do not cover the pot.
Remove the pork into a big bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water to the pot (be careful, water sizzles when hit on hot surfaces). Scrape the bottom of the pot to get the brown bits off. Pour the juice on the seared pork. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the pot (be careful, it’s hot), but do not rinse the pot.
The searing is to carmelised the outside of the meats and trap the juices in, not to cook the meats. The meats are not cooked at this stage, so do not eat them. The crispy surfaces of the meats will add texture after they are boiled for hours.
2. Repeat the first step with the beef.
3. Repeat the first step with the sausages, except this time, after you remove the seared sausages from the pot, do not add water to the fat/oil. Instead, turn the heat down to a medium-low, and add garlic. Stir until fragrant. Then add allspice and caraway seeds, stir for 20s. Add onions and a few pinches of salt. Cook the onions, stir occasionally until they are limp – about 10 minutes. Do not cover the pot.
4. Add seared meats and the juices; carrots; and tomatoes. Increase the heat to high. When it boils, add cabbage and sauerkraut. Stir until cabbage releases water. The liquid should almost submerge the top of the food. If not, add water. When the pot simmers, add bay leaves, and then reduce the heat to the lowest that can still maintain the minimum bubbling. Just barely bubbling. Cover the pot.
5. Allow the pot to stew for 2 or 4 or 6 hours, stirring at the end of each hour. It depends on how you like your meats. 2 hours: nice bite. 4 hours: in between. 6 hours: super tender to the point of disintegration. I did mine for 2 hours.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
7. Eat with rye bread or rice or pasta or on its own.
For your convenience, I mad a video:
1. Dump everything into the slow cooker.
You may be interested in…
–Pałacyk Gozdawa, Poland: We Dined in a Palace, Feasting On Old Polish Cuisine
–Zoni Restaurant and Vodka Bar, Warsaw Poland: Modern European Restaurant So Popular It Requires Some String Pulling to Get In
–Mokotowska 69, Warsaw Poland: Homely Tavern, Interesting Twist to Traditional Polish Food
–Where to Stay in Warsaw, Poland: Renaissance Warsaw Airport Hotel Review
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.