An authentic Polish bigos recipe, this bigos stew is used not only in Poland but all over the world. The popular hunter’s stew made of sauerkraut and meat is not only delicious but also satiating. Perfect for a winter meal!
The popular Polish bigos stew is traditionally made with game meat such as venison from elk or deer, or wild boar. Nowadays, people usually add pork and kielbasa to bigos. The dish is quite heavy, that’s why you can be sure you won’t be hungry after eating a bowl.
Traditionally popular at Christmas celebrations and weddings, bigos stew is cooked and eaten during wintertime.
Bigos is definitely not a Polish summer dish. Why?
Sauerkraut, onion, and meat are ingredients that are easily available in the winter. And a few hundred years ago, when there were no fridges, people’s diets were quite limited as they adjusted to their surroundings and circumstances. So they made the best of what they had, which in the cold winter was meat, onions, and sauerkraut, and turned it into a delicious feast of a meal. Because it takes days to cook it, it would usually be made in big portions and stewed in a big pot. So when the bigos was made at home there was enough food to share between the family.
The other reason why bigos was so popular in Poland during wintertime is that this dish is greasy and very satiating. It keeps you internally warm and feeling full for a long time. It is also very comforting food, the best to have after a long day in the cold weather.
When Was Polish Bigos Stew Invented?
Bigos can be traced back to medieval times, says Polish food historian Maria Dembińska. At that time, of course, it was called ‘compositum’ and made using a mix of onions, chard and cabbage without meat.
Over time the dish was assimilated by different European cultures, from the Italian mescolanza to the Alsatian potée boulangère.
In the 17th century, bigos appeared on the scene in Poland. At that time, it was made of finely chopped meat cooked with lard or butter and seasonings that were spicy, sweet, and sour.
In 1682, different recipes for ‘bigosek’ were recorded by Prince Lubomirski’s head chef Stanisław Czerniecki in his book Compendium ferculorum (A Collection of Dishes). The recipes used different meats or seafood with onions, vinegar, and spices.
Bigos of roast beef is recorded in recipes from 1686 and 1783, but was often the food of the nobles and used various vegetables.
In the 18th century, the poor man started making his version of bigos by replacing costly vinegar with cheaper sauerkraut, and the rest is history! Adding sauerkraut to the dish also allowed them to reduce the amount of meat used making it more economical.
This version of bigos became more common and popular than every other version of bigos in Poland!
In fact, the Polish bigos stew is so popular that it was mentioned in the Polish national epic, Pan Tadeusz.
How To Make Bigos Stew – Polish Hunter’s Stew
Start by soaking the dried mushrooms in water overnight, or at least for a few hours. Once soaked, cook the mushrooms until they are soft.
Next, rinse the sauerkraut with water to get rid of the sour taste and cook it for a while before draining it again.
Chop the onions and smoked bacon into fine cubes.
Fry the bacon for a while and add to the sauerkraut. Fry the onions in the bacon fat that’s left in the pan, and then add to the sauerkraut and bacon.
Next, chop the mixed meat and fry it with lard or oil and add to the bigos pot.
Add the other ingredients as well as chopped mushrooms and mix well. And the authentic Polish bigos stew is ready!
Once the bigos is ready, fry it in a pan. This is my mom-in-law’s secret to making the best-tasting authentic bigos stew. The more you fry the bigos, the better it tastes!
Authentic Polish Bigos Recipe Tips
Fry, fry, fry!
The secret of getting the perfect taste of Polish bigos stew is frying it. The more you do it, the better.
My mom-in-law, who is a bigos MasterChef says that bigos tastes best after a few days. You need to fry it each day, allow it to cool, and repeat the next day.
This means, if you’re having a dinner party on Saturday night, it’s best to make the authentic Polish bigos stew on Thursday or Friday.
Use sauerkraut, not fresh cabbage!
Although you can make Polish bigos from fresh cabbage, the taste won’t be as authentic as when you use sauerkraut.
You can also mix fresh and fermented cabbage to get a less sour different taste.
Opt for a good quality sauerkraut. Ideally use the simple brined kraut, but if you only find the kraut, use it too, but make sure to rinse it a couple of times, to get rid of the sourness.
Be careful with salt!
Avoid adding salt throughout the cooking. Cauerkraut and sausage contain a lot of salt, and it sometimes is enough for the whole dish. Leave the salt till the very end, after all the frying, cooking, and stewing is done.
If you want more veggies, double the amount of sauerkraut!
You can increase the amount of sauerkraut to suit your tastebuds. Of course, if you’re like some friends of mine, you might also increase the amount of meat to make the bigos richer and heavier.
Add juniper berries to make traditional Hunter’s Stew that reminds you of the forest!
Although bigos can be made with different varieties of meats, there are a few popular traditional varieties. Use venison meat in the stew and add juniper berries, and it will be called Hunter’s Stew or bigos myśliwski!
You might not get wild mushrooms in the city. Use others instead!
The traditional recipe for bigos stew uses wild mushrooms. That will be difficult to find in a city. You can use dried porcini mushrooms or any other mushrooms instead.
Serve it in a bread bowl for more authenticity!
- Rinse the sauerkraut to get rid of the excess sourness or vinegar!
- Use a big flat cast iron pan for even cooking this authentic Polish bigos recipe.
- If you serve it without the bread, this recipe is keto and gluten-free!
- Add salt at the end. The bacon, sausages, and sauerkraut are naturally salty. So to prevent the recipe from getting too salty, it’s best to add salt at the end!
Different Types Of Authentic Polish Bigos Recipe
The basic ingredients of an authentic Polish bigos recipe are sauerkraut and meat. However, there are some local variations available including:
- bigos litewski (Polish Lithuanian bigos) with the addition of apples
- bigos myśliwski (Polish hunter’s stew bigos) with the addition of venison meat
- bigos hultajski with the addition of lard and a large amount of meat
- bigos węgierski (Polish Hungarian bigos) with the addition of red pepper and sour cream
- bigos galicyjski (Galician bigos) with the addition of potatoes and white beans
- bigos wegetariański (vegetarian bigos) with soya instead of meat
FAQs About Authentic Polish Bigos Recipe
What Does Bigos Mean?
Bigos literally means stew. In this case, it’s a stew of meat and cabbage.
How To Pronounce Bigos?
The Polish word bigos is pronounced ‘bee-gawhs’ or ‘bee-gohs‘.
Which Sausage Should I Add To The Stew?
You can add any smoked sausages to the stew, but the Polish kielbasa sausages taste the best. That’s what we add!
How To Store Bigos?
Once the bigos stew is ready, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze it and store it for up to 6 months.
If you decide to pasteurize bigos, you can keep it like that for up to 3 months (in the fridge).
Reheat before serving.
What To Serve Bigos With?
Although authentic Polish bigos tastes great just as it is, here are the most popular add-ons:
- bread with butter
- mashed or boiled potatoes
- prazoki mashed potatoes
- red wine or vodka
- dill pickles
- kluski śląskie
Authentic Polish Bigos Recipe
- 2.5 lbs (1.2 kg) of sauerkraut (kapusta kiszona)
- 1 pound (450-500g) of smoked bacon
- 2-3.5 pounds (1 - 1.5kg) of different kind of meats (sausage, ham, etc.)
- 2-3 average onions
- 16 oz (400-450g) of tomato paste (przecier pomidorowy)
- handful of dry mushrooms
- 3.5 oz (5 tbsps) of plum jam (powidło śliwkowe)
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram
- Cover the dried mushrooms with cold water and leave for at least 2 hours (if possible, leave overnight). After that, cook the mushrooms until they are soft.
- If your sauerkraut is too sour, you may rinse it (it's not necessary). Cover the sauerkraut with water and cook for 15 minutes.
- Drain the sauerkraut when it's cooked.
- Finely chop the onions and the smoked bacon.
- Fry the bacon for 10 minutes. Add it to the sauerkraut.
- Using the same pan, fry the onions. The pan is already covered with bacon fat, so the onion will be easily fried.
- Add fried onion to the sauerkraut and bacon.
- Chop the mixed meat and fry it in the pan. (Use some oil if necessary.)
- Add the fried mixed meat to the pot. Add tomato puree, powidło (plum butter), salt, pepper, dried marjoram, and cumin.
- Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pot.
- Mix everything together.
- Finally, fry the bigos in the pan. If you have a small pan, fry it partially. Don't skip this bit! Frying the bigos at the end is the secret to getting the best flavor. It's believed that the more you fry it, the better bigos you will get.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 416Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 87mgSodium: 1635mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 6gSugar: 14gProtein: 31g
These data are indicative and calculated by Nutritionix
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