Bigos is a traditional meat stew from Poland. This hearty stew is made with assorted meats, sausages, and sauerkraut; all simmered together for hours creating complex, tantalizing flavors.
Loosely translated Bigos means hunter’s stew. Consider it as the region’s version of Kitchen sink soup. Use any meat/s you have on hand with any spicy sausage and sauerkraut to make this dish. This is a perfect way to use up all those leftover cuts of meat.
…. as I was writing this, the thought struck me “there is no such thing as leftover cuts of meat for us urban folks!”. The joys of hunter gathering lifestyle is lost on us, but let’s just pretend for a bit and make it anyway.
Eat the world challenge
When eat the world challenge chose Poland for the month of December – it seemed quite natural to pick the national dish. Although I love sauerkraut I have NEVER cooked with it. This was a first! And well it is December and COLD outside. What better meal to serve on a cold winter night than a long simmered meaty stew?
Note : Checkout more eat the world recipes at the end of the post.
Bigos – A Traditional Recipe
Bigos is a very traditional dish made by generations of Polish grandmas. Everyone had their own version using different cuts of meat (game, pork, beef..), sausage, and pickles (sauerkraut) along with whatever else the family fancied. I am sure if I had a polish grandmother she would “pooh-pooh“ (or the polish version of it ), this bigos.
Meat Stew – meat and more meat
The star ingredient here is the meat. The choice of meat and cuts are entirely up to you. Though I would recommend using a heartier/ a bit gamey meat rather than going with poultry. This is a stew that can accommodate bold flavors and that is the way to go. Use at least one each of fresh cut of meat , sausage and bacon. Here are some options
- Pork (preferably shoulder)
- Beef (Stew meat or chuck)
- Smoked kielbasa or any spicy hard sausage that holds its shape in the stew.
- Bacon (Must!)
…. anything else you fancy.
Vegetables and Fruit
Other than sauerkraut/cabbage vegetables seemed like an afterthought in most of the recipes that I had sampled. I prefer to add carrots or mushrooms, but feel free to add as much or as little of these as you like.
Dried fruit is added to the stew to counter the sauerkraut’s acidity. My family has told me in no uncertain terms that they do not appreciate finding bits of dried fruit in the stew! If you are of the same mindset rinse the sauerkraut very well before adding to the stew. The acidity will be greatly reduced and there may not be any need to add dry fruits or any sweeteners to balance the dish.
Stock / Wine
The liquid you add to the stew can be a mix stocks, broths, wine, and water. Use the ones you like. Personally, I would use a mix of chicken and vegetable stock in the stew and wine to pass time when waiting for it to finish cooking.
Make in Bulk Meat Stew
This is like aged wine, tastes better as it matures. This stew does not spoil easily and stays fresh, and even tastes better after a day or so. In colder climates you could store it in the pantry and reheat as needed for a couple of days. I am not recommending that you do it though, unless it is 40°F in the house, don’t get me in trouble with the Food Police please !!!
If you are thinking of serving something traditional and different for the Christmas dinner this is the recipe to try. Make it a couple days ahead of time, cool to room temperature and refrigerate. It stays fresh for 3 to 4 days.
Is Bigos Paleo
All right, so you have a few friends who swear by the paleo diet. This is what you serve them. For the rest of us give a piece of crusty bread, some potatoes (traditional side) or better yet, serve it in a bread bowl!
How to Serve Bigos
The stew is typically served with rye bread or potatoes. I didn’t have rye bread and am not a big fan of potatoes either – but I would love to have it in a sourdough bread bowl or just with some crusty bread. This being the season, I would love to have some mulled wine or even my home made spiced wine with it.
Try These Breads with Bigos
There are 4 secrets to making tasty Bigos – taste ,taste, taste, and sauerkraut! So don’t forget to taste and adjust the ingredients.
Here is the recipe for one pot bigos – with instructions for stove top cooking and Instant pot or other pressure cookers.
One Pot Bigos
- 1 lb Pork / Beef Notes
- 1 lb Uncured Bacon
- 1 lb Keilbasa or similar
- 4 C Cabbage Chopped (1 small head)
- 1 Onion Small
- 1 C Carrots Chopped
- 1 C Mushrooms Sliced
- 2 lbs Sauerkraut in brine
- 1 Tbsp Garlic Minced
- 2 C Beef or Chicken Broth Notes
- ½ C Prunes Pitted
- 1 Tbsp Caraway seeds
- 1 Tbsp Juniper Berries optional
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 2 Tbsp oil if needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the pork/beef into 1 inch cubes. Cut the bacon into 1inch slices. Slice the sausage into bite size pieces. Chop the cabbage, onions and carrots and slice the mushrooms. Mince the onions. Rub the caraway seed in the palm of your hand and or crush lightly with a mortar and pestle. Drain all the juices out of the sauerkraut and rinse if desired.
Stock pot version
- Heat the stockpot over medium heat with a light drizzle of oil. When hot add the sliced bacon and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the bacon fat is rendered. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and use later for garnish if desired.
- Add the meat to the bacon fat in batches. Stir and turn the meat a few times and let it brown lightly on all sides. Remove each batch from the pan and reserve before adding the next one. If needed add a little oil.
- Once the last batch of meat is removed from the pan add the sausage to it and let it turn lightly brown on both sides. Remove and reserve.
- Add the garlic and chopped onion to the pan. Stir and cook for about a minute until the onions soften. Add the caraway seeds and stir. Add the sausage and let it cook until cook for a minute. Add the tomato paste to the pan and mix it in. If needed add ¼ C of the stock to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Return the meat to the pan, stir and cook for a minute. Add the carrots, mushrooms sauerkraut and cabbage to the pan and let cook for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften and give off a water. Sprinkle the juniper berries and the prunes (if using) on top. Pour the remaining broth over it. (Notes)
- Cover and let simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours checking on the stew about 40 minutes into cooking. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. If thick stew is preferred let it simmer uncovered for the last 10 to 20 minutes of cooking. For a thinner version add more stock/water/wine as desired.
Instant Pot / Electric pressure cooker
- Turn on the sauté mode and follow the above steps until the stock is added. Close the lid and set the vent to sealing position. Set the IP on manual program at high pressure for 40 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for15 minutes (careful while opening the vent there will be more steam to release).
- Taste and adjust salt. Press sauté mode and thicken to desired consistency.
- Let cool and come to room temperature before serving. Tastes better the next day !
- Pork shoulder / belly are all good cuts for this stew. If using a fattier version , drain the fat from the pan and add oil if needed.
- Substitute beef / lamb for pork
- If the acidity of the sauerkraut is too strong adjust with brown sugar, but if serving the next day let the stew sit and mature before adjusting for taste.
- I used 50 – 50 beef and chicken broth. Use whichever you have in the pantry or substitute 20 – 50 broth and dry red wine.
- The vegetables used give off a lot of water, so do not add more stock initially.
- In IP the moisture loss is minimal the stew will be thinner than the stovetop version.
- Browning the meat increases the flavors, but when you are in a hurry render the bacon fat and add everything else to the pot at the same time, let it slow cook or follow the IP/pressure cooker directions.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
Check out all the wonderful Polish dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. If you are a food blogger, click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring one country per month in the kitchen!
Juli: Zupa Orgorkowa
Evelyne: Polish White Borscht Soup Recipe
Margaret: Polish Honey Cake