Can You Make a Traditional Polish Bigos with Smoked Sausage and Sauerkraut?

When you think about traditional Polish cuisine, one of the first dishes that might come to mind is Bigos. Also known as Hunter’s Stew, it’s a hearty mix of meat, sauerkraut, and other ingredients simmered together over time to yield a flavorful, comforting dish. But, can you make this stew with smoked sausage and sauerkraut? Absolutely! Here’s how to do it.

Sourcing the Ingredients: Cabbage, Smoked Sausage and More

The beauty of Bigos lies in its diversity of ingredients. Sure, you need cabbage, specifically sauerkraut, and meat, but what kind? Traditionally, Bigos features a mix of meats, including pork, venison, beef, or chicken. But adding smoked sausage isn’t just possible; it’s encouraged. The smoky flavor of the sausage adds a unique depth to the stew that’s hard to achieve otherwise.

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Your choice of sausage can be varied too. Polish kielbasa is an excellent choice, but feel free to use your favorite smoked sausage. Add in a handful of dried mushrooms and prunes, and you’ll have all the ingredients you need.

Don’t forget about the sauerkraut. It’s a crucial element of Bigos, lending it a tangy flavor that balances out the richness of the meats. Fresh cabbage can also be added for extra texture.

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Preparing the Sauerkraut and Other Vegetables

To start making your Bigos, first rinse your sauerkraut in cold water, then drain. This step helps to reduce the tanginess if it’s too strong for your liking.

Next, chop up the fresh cabbage, if you’re using any, along with an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Slice your sausage into thick chunks and slice your bacon into small pieces. If you’re using dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes until they soften. Drain the water and chop the mushrooms. The prunes should be pitted and chopped as well.

The Cooking Process: Make it in a Pot

The cooking process for Bigos is a long and slow one. This isn’t a dish you rush; instead, it’s one that rewards patience.

Start by cooking the bacon in a large pot until it’s crispy. Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pot. Now, add your sausage pieces and sear them until they’re browned. Once that’s done, remove the sausage, leaving the fat in the pot.

Now, it’s time to sauté your onions and garlic in the leftover fat until they’re softened and slightly browned. Add the sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, mushrooms, prunes, a couple of bay leaves, and some marjoram. Stir everything together, then add your meat back into the pot.

At this point, your Bigos is ready to simmer. Cover the pot and let it cook on low heat for at least 2 hours. But remember, the longer it cooks, the better it tastes. Some people even let their Bigos cook for several days, adding a bit of water or broth as needed to keep it from drying out.

Serving and Enjoying Your Bigos

After all that simmering, your Bigos is ready to be enjoyed. But before you serve it, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning. More often than not, it’ll need a good pinch of salt and maybe some pepper.

Serve your Bigos hot, preferably with a side of rye bread or mashed potatoes. A dollop of sour cream on top is optional, but it can add a nice creaminess to the stew.

Final Thoughts

Bigos is a dish that’s meant to be shared. It’s perfect for large gatherings, as it’s easy to make in large batches and gets better with each reheating. So the next time you’re thinking of a dish to feed a crowd, consider Bigos. It’s hearty, flavorful, and with the addition of smoked sausage, truly unforgettable.

Making Bigos in a Slow Cooker

In addition to the traditional pot method, Bigos can also be prepared in a slow cooker. This approach is especially useful if you want to leave it simmering while you go about your day, enhancing the flavors without needing to keep a constant eye on it.

Firstly, prepare the ingredients as described above; rinsed sauerkraut, chopped fresh cabbage, onion, garlic, well-sliced smoked sausage, and small pieces of bacon. Also, remember to soak your dried mushrooms and prepare your chopped prunes.

Instead of using a pot, place the sautéed onions, garlic, and browned sausage into the slow cooker. Follow up with the sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, mushrooms, prunes, bay leaves, and marjoram. Stir everything together, then add the crispy bacon and a little water or broth if needed.

Set your slow cooker to low heat and allow it to simmer for a minimum of 8 hours. If you can let it cook for even longer, it’s even better. The longer you let it cook, the more the flavors will meld together, resulting in a richer Polish Bigos.

Customizing Your Bigos Recipe

One of the beauties of Bigos is its versatility. You can adjust the recipe to suit your taste. For instance, if you want a slightly sweet flavor, you could add a tablespoon of tomato paste or a splash of red wine. Alternatively, for a more complex flavor, consider adding a couple of juniper berries.

Also, you may substitute white cabbage for the fresh cabbage if you prefer a slightly sweeter flavor. You could also choose Polish sausage instead of smoked sausage, depending on your preference.

Remember, Bigos is hearty and rich; it’s a dish that can take on many flavors without losing its authenticity. So don’t be afraid to experiment and make your authentic Polish Bigos recipe your own.

Conclusion

Making Bigos Hunter stew is a journey, not a race. It requires preparation, patience, and a slow cooking process to fully unlock the flavors. Whether you’re celebrating a traditional Polish Easter or simply craving a warm, hearty meal, Bigos is an excellent choice.

The smoked sausage adds depth, while the sauerkraut provides a tangy balance to the richness of the meats. Adding in ingredients like prunes and mushrooms gives it even more complexity. And remember, don’t forget to adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to your taste before serving.

Whether you’re making it in a slow cooker or a pot, enjoy the process of creating this dish as much as you’ll enjoy sharing and eating it. So next time you’re looking for a satisfying, crowd-pleasing dish, remember the Bigos stew. After all, nothing brings people together quite like good food.