Bigos is the national dish of Poland, if not officially then at least the facto. It’s a traditional a hunter’s stew with a base of soured cabbage. Once upon a time, you’d have a pot boiling for weeks, and you kept adding what you had. A rabbit? Put it in there. Venison? You’d cut it up and would drop it into the stew. Today, a common ingredient is pork belly and sausage. The bigos stew is a very rich, slow cooked dish, full with flavors. Salty and smoky notes from the sausages and pork belly, and tart from the fermented cabbage.
Although you can put all kinds of meat in your stew, and flavor it with juniper, caraway seeds and what not, I’m going to make a lighter version, with polish smoked pork belly and dried sausage. And instead of using just sauerkraut, I will use both fresh and soured white cabbage. It makes the stew less aggressive on the sour notes, and lets through the pork and sausage flavors. Because this version is not as heavy as many of the traditional ones, it works excellent as a hors-d’oeuvre in a multi-course dinner.
As for the pressure cooker I’m using, you don’t need one to make this, but it does speed things up a lot and it does keep more flavors in the dish. You see, when you feel the wonderful smell of food cooking, all over the house, those are aromas that you’d much rather have still in the food. Pressure cookers not only speed up the cooking time, they also keep flavors in there.
Time it takes
About 10 minutes of active cooking. 50 minutes of keeping an eye on the stove
- 500 g of fresh white cabbage
- 500 g of sauerkraut (sour cabbage, the stuff Germans are said to constantly eat)
- 1 onion
- 250 g of Polish sausage (suszona kiełbasa, literally meaning dried sausage)
- 250 g of hot-smoked pork belly (boczek, although often translated as bacon, it’s rather a hot-smoked pork belly, that you can eat without cooking it first, and has a flavor that resembles fatty hot-smoked ham)
- 8 button mushrooms (or any mushrooms you can get a hold of, as long as they have a somewhat neutral flavor so it doesn’t overwhelm the stew. Remember, we’re making a lighter version of bigos, and we must allow all the flavors to get through)
- 4 dl of red wine (white is fine too, but I prefer using red, it gives the whole thing a richer flavor)
- 1/2 dl of chestnut honey (some recipes call for prunes to give the stew some sweetness, but I’ll be using chestnut honey. It’s a wonderful honey, with a very distinct taste, that gives the stew a very nice characteristic)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp paprika powder (I’m using smoked and a little spicy paprika powder, because I like having a little spiciness in my bigos, although Poles traditionally do not eat very spicy food)
- Ground black pepper
- Some parsley to garnish it
Instructions to prepare your bigos
- Cut the pork belly and the sausage into various sizes. Its nice having both big slices of sausage, and small pieces in there.
- Chop up the onion into large pieces, we’re making a rustic dish here.
- Thinly cut the cabbage, and put it all into the pressure cooker.
- Put the sauerkraut in there too.
- Add wine, water, bay leaves and black pepper.
- For the sweetness, add some honey. Preferably chestnut honey, it’s a wonderful dark and rich honey made from bees pollinating chestnut flours.
- Put the pressure up to high by closing the lid, and set the heat to high. Once the vent starts sounding a lot, and steam comes out of it, the pressure is good. Now, take the heat down as low as possible, while still maintaining pressure. If it stops sounding a lot, and you don’t see steam coming out, then you’ve lowered the heat too much. Set it to high again, and try again. Anyway, once the pressure is there, you start the timer set to 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, slice the mushrooms and put them in there.
- Add some paprika powder as a final touch. I’m using a spicy one that has been smoked. It’s wonderful, although not very traditional in this dish.
- Try it. Is the salty pork belly and sausage enough, or does the stew need more salt? Now is the time to make a choice.
- Server with some bread or boiled potatoes as a main course, or serve it as a starter instead of say soup.