The national dish of Poland, this dish, or variations thereof, are the comfort food of many slavic folk - or so I'm told.
“People don’t talk to each other any more! They just stare at their phones! How impersonal!”
In our day, we made friends. At school. Or at work. When the time came to graduate or move on, we hugged, maybe shed a tear or two, promised faithfully to keep in touch, which we did for a year or two, and then time and tide washed them out of our lives.
So what are people, especially young people, these days doing when they’re staring at their phones? They’re staying connected, they’re keeping in touch. Sometimes with good friends (text worthy) sometimes with casual acquaintances, shirttail relatives, or even friends of friends (Facebook). They are knitting a network of connectedness that is downright vast compared to our Christmas card list! They are buying and selling the detritus of their lives on Facebook Marketplace. They are helping to locate lost pets in their neighbourhoods. They are remembering birthdays, admiring new babies, celebrating accomplishments and expressing condolences to those suffering loss. They are sharing their thoughts and observations and yes, even their dinner. Oh, sure. A lot of it is nonsense, but, if we’re being honest, we’ll admit that a lot of our youthful face to face conversations were less than Shakespearean in depth and eloquence. The means may change, but the need for interpersonal connection remains untarnished.
I was grateful, for instance, recently that I had managed to stay connected with a fine fellow nearby who was making space in his freezer for an imminent side of beef. With reluctance, he offered some sour cabbages to interested Facebook friends. When I jumped at the opportunity, he cheerfully delivered not one, but two of these buxom beauties, bigger than bowling balls, right to my door!
To be honest, all I knew about sour cabbages was that they are popular in the western provinces, and that they are surely a relative of sauerkraut. Before I even had a chance to Google, a surprising number of friends began to spout recipes. Cabbage rolls, (and who doesn’t love them?) were mentioned, of course, but also an apparently classic favourite of slavic extraction, one that I’d never heard of, Bigos. When spoken, it sounds like be-GOSH!, and always includes an exclamation mark, at least when they said it, it did.
This is super in the Instant Pot, by the way, if you have one. Do the browning on the Sauté setting. Put it all together and cook on high pressure for 25 minutes. This looks like a lot, so be sure not to overfill your Instant Pot! Maybe two batches!
Bigos is one of those recipes that includes sour cabbage, onions and whatever meaty bits you have on hand. No need to get all complicated.
I include here, however, a complicated recipe from polskafoods.com, just so you have the general idea of what you’re aiming for.
“The Best Bigos Recipe -- Polish Hunter's Stew This bigos recipe makes a dish for 8+ people:
- 4 slices of hickory smoked bacon
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 1 lb Polish Sausage, quartered
- 1 lb beef or pork stew meat (or double sausage)
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 4-5 large garlic cloves
- 3-4 medium carrots, diced
- 1 thinly sliced sour cabbage or large jar of drained sauerkraut (do not rinse)
- 1 fresh cabbage, shredded
- 1.5 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1.5 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
- Pinch of cayenne
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 4 cups beef stock
- 1 can diced tomatoes (optional)
- Mushroom powder (optional) – seriously? Who has this?
- Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
- 1 cup chopped dried prunes
BIGOS RECIPE DIRECTIONS
1. CARAMELIZE ONIONS & MUSHROOMS WITH BACON. Place chopped onions in large stock pot with chopped raw bacon on medium heat. COVER. Mix occasionally until the onions start to brown. Add mushrooms and cook until soft. Do not make the bacon crispy.
2. ADD MEAT. Add sausage and all meat, mixing and browning. If you need more fat, add olive oil. You do not want to over cook the meat, just brown on the outside. If you use good smoked Polish sausage, you do not need to brown very long.
4. ADD REST OF INGREDIENTS. Put all ingredients together in your large pot, but not the prunes. If there is not enough room, add the cabbage first to reduce it a little.
5. SAUTÉ FOR 2 TO 3 HOURS ON LOW. Cook until you reduce the liquid and it becomes more of a thick stew. Mix every 20 minutes or so and make sure it is not dry. You can add more red wine or broth if needed. Bigos should always be juicy. Taste, but flavours will not have melded until the next day. But, you can add more paprika or pepper if required.
6. ADD PRUNES. Mix thoroughly and heat with prunes for another 10 minutes--until soft. Enjoy with Rye bread (if you can't wait), or store in fridge. Really good with Potato Cheese pierogi.” Or boiled potatoes.
My friends all seem to have strong feelings about this dish. It’s one of those where everyone knows best. Mushrooms? Never! Lots of onions! Prunes? No! Honey! Tomatoes? Surely not!
However you manage to get this dish toggled together, and I gather you can’t really go wrong, do garnish with some lightly chopped fresh parsley so your photo looks good when you post it on Facebook. It’s bound to get lots of likes from friends near and far!