Monday, 10 December 2012

Bigos : a famous old Polish hunter's stew .

When the winter enters the land and the nights grow long and cold, this famous old Polish hunting dish will be perfect to keep you going!
It's basically a hunter's stew of lots of white cabbage , sauerkraut, apples, some mushrooms, dried prunes , water , a little wine and plenty of pork or other leftovers of cooked meat.
You make this dish one day in advance, because it has to be cooled down and reheated before served.
Every reheating will make it more tasteful! ( so my Polish cookbook says )

These are most of the ingredients
(except for the white cabbage,  this picture shows about half the required amount of ingredients )

For 6 (really large) to 8 ( still quite large) portions of this hearty dish you'll need

A large cooking pot ( 4 to 5 litres )

1 kilo of white cabbage
1 kilo of sauerkraut ( 2 bags like the one in the picture)
2  nice stewing apples ( these are Belgian Boskoop apples)

a handful (10-15) of dried prunes ( pitted)

3 to 4 onions, red or white
a glass (0,15 l) of a hearty red wine ( dry , not a sweet one ! )

0,75 litres of boiling water
10 juniper berries , crushed ( if you can't find these don't worry you could substitute a teaspoon of gin , which get its flavour from juniper berries )

10 black pepper corns, whole
4 dried bay leaves
a handful or two of mushrooms , dried or fresh
a tablespoon of honey
500 grams of Polish sausage ( or another tasty sausage )
500 grams of cooked ham or stewed bacon
500 grams of braised pork
a tablespoon of oil or butter

( you can use other kinds of cooked meat, as long as they can be stewed ) 
Some recipes recommend dried sausage, but I've found that that becomes too hard and chewy when stewed.

Cut the cabbage in four and remove the stem.

Cut the cabbage into fine strips.

Put the cabbage in a sieve and slowly pour boiling water over it.

Peel the apples, remove the cores and dice them.

If the mushrooms are dried, put hot water on them till they're fully covered and let them soak for 15 minutes.
Then cook them for 30 minutes and keep the water they're cooked in.

Once when preparing this dish, I was so lucky to be able to buy this wonderful collection of fresh mushrooms : you clean them off with a soft brush and cook them slowly for 30 minutes in water. Keep the cooking water and slice the larger mushrooms into half before adding them.

I have also used these collected mushrooms which come pre cooked in glass jars. They taste quite nice too.
You just add water and use them like this, or slice up the larger ones.

Chop the onions not too finely and brown them in the pot in a tablespoon of butter or oil over a low heat, to keep them from burning.

I chop my onions by cutting them in half, slicing the halves

and while keeping the sliced halves together, cutting across the slices. There are other ways to do it, this is just the way I do it. With my razor-sharp Japanese knife , it's a fast way :)

Drain the sauerkraut  ( leave some of the juice on it ) and add it to the onions.
Add the cabbage strips, the diced apples, the whole pepper corns, the bay leaves, the prunes, the mushrooms and their cooking water and the 0,75 litres of boiling water.

Your cooking pot should be about half full by now.

Cover the pot with a lid and let everything simmer slowly for 1 hour.

In the meantime , cut the meat into cubes about as tick as your thumb and the sausage into slices , about as thick as your little finger.

After one hour of simmering,  pile the meat on top and  pour the wine and the spoon of honey over it.

Stir the meat and the cabbage well and let it simmer without the lid for another 40 minutes or so. Stir from time to time , pushing what's on top to the bottom, so all the meat gets stewed...
When done, the cabbage should be very nice and tender.
You'll have almost 4 kilos of stew ( that's why you needed a BIG pot )

Cover the pot and let everything cool off during a night in the fridge or like I do it : cool it off outside in the garden with the lid securely tied on,  if it's below 8 degrees and not  freezing outside.

Reheat the dish till it cooks and simmer for another 10 minutes : the cabbage will be wonderfully soft, slightly sour ( much less poignant than pure sauerkraut ) and the meat very tender.

Serve it with thick slices of brown bread ( to dip in the wonderful juices ) and a small glass of cold Polish vodka, which is supposed to let you digest it better. The vodka will also boost your confidence as a hunter and improve your aim immensely when you go hunting after eating :)

If you don't want to heat the entire pot , you can also reheat just the amount you want to eat by putting your serving in a soup plate , covered with a dinner plate and cooking it at half the strength of your microwave (350 watts for about 12 minutes or so), which heats it through and lets it simmer long enough to blend the tastes nicely.

Życzymy smacznego (Enjoy your meal) !


Kumiko said...

This stew is really appetizing!
These mashrooms are rare in Japan,I wanna try them.
This stew will warm us to the marrow on a cold winter day.
I wish you a Happy New Year,Walter!

Walter said...

A Happy New year to you too, Kumiko!
I'm sure you can make these dish with the mushrooms you find in Japan ( Shiitake, shimeji, maitake ). The wild ones in my photo are Horn of plenty ( the black ones ) , Chanterelles ( the yellow and brown ones ). Unfortunately these cannot be cultivated on wood shavings like so many others , they have to grow near a specific tree.