I distinctly remember when I first heard of Bigos, the classic Polish Hunter's Stew. I had just moved back to NYC from college and was living in the East Village, which had an abundance of Polish restaurants. Brother #2 suggested I try Little Poland, and specifically to get the Bigos. I had no idea what Bigos was, but I was game. I thought that Bigos was something plural, like one of them was a Bigo, and a plate of them were Bigos. Wrong. Delightfully, deliciously wrong.
Bigos is actually considered by many to be the national dish of Poland, and is a stew consisting of sauerkraut (kapusta kiszona in Polish), fresh cabbage and various meats. It seems like one of those dishes that can vary from region to region and family to family, so I didn't feel as if I had one central classic recipe to draw from. Instead I focused on the most typical components and went for a pretty simple version that I'd say is probably more Bigos-inspired than authentic. I got a nice hunk of mystery Kielbasa from a Polish meat market in Greenpoint (I say mystery because there were about 10 different kielbasa's and I had no idea what the differences were, and the cards were written in Polish, so I just pointed). I also threw in a smoked pork chop and some bacon. To truly be a hunter's stew it actually needed some game of some kind, but I didn't have any, so unfortunately that was left out.
I served the Bigos with some fantastic Potato Onion Dill bread from Amy's Bread, which ended up being perfect because it was a rye bread, the type typically served with Bigos. I didn't know that at the time so perhaps my choice to pair them was some real cook's intuition? Recipe after the jump:
BIGOS (POLISH HUNTER'S STEW)
1/2 pound kielbasa, sliced into rounds
1/2 pound smoked pork chop, cubed
1/2 pound smokey bacon or salt pork, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1 pound fresh sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 pound fresh cabbage, shredded
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp dried marjoram
1 tbsp dried dill
fresh dill for garnish
Heat a large deep saute pan or dutch oven over high heat. Add all of the meats and saute to render the fat. Add the onions to the pot and saute in the fat until translucent. Add the tomato paste and allow to sizzle for a minute before stirring in. Add the cabbage, sauerkraut, and all the spices, then add chicken stock until just barely covering. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, then cover and allow to simmer for at least an hour, 2-3 hours is even better. Add additional stock if necessary. If there is excess liquid, simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes to boil away. Serve topped with chopped fresh dill along with a nice soft rye bread.