Often called Hunter’s Stew, bigos is an eastern European recipe that dates way back. Now a days, it is just the best winter time meal you can have during the holidays. It is meaty, it is delicious, and it can feed a lot of people. The recipe below makes enough bigos to feed 10-20 people, depending on portion size. It freezes wonderfully (more on that later) and can last for days. Eaten on bread, with potatoes, or just by itself, it is a wonderful holiday treat that is sure to impress your family and friends. This Polish recipe below is straight from my family to you.
You’ll need the ingredients below, a giant pot (I use an 8 quart pot but I have also managed in a 5 quart pot), a saute pan, and time. This recipe takes about 10 hours spread over two days, but what you end up with is well worth the time and will last you quite a bit.
- The Ingredients of bigos
- 1 jar of Sauerkraut (Polish Style, with caraway) – I use Frank’s brand.
- 2 jars Sauerkraut (Polish Style, with NO caraway)
- 1 package (1 lb) Coleslaw mix
- 1.5 Lbs of Pork*
- 1.5 Lbs of Beef*
- 1 Lb Polish Kielbasa, smoked (pre-cooked)
- 1 large white onion
- 10-15 dried pitted prunes
- 1 bottle dry red wine (I use Merlot)
- 10 (or 1 package) dried mushrooms
- 10 peppercorns
- 5-10 juniper berries (Optional as they are kind of pricey, I usually omit them for this reason)
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 grains allspice
- 2-3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
* A note on meat – I use 1.5 lbs of each pork and beef. You can use less if you don’t want as much meat, or even more. I find 1.5 lbs of each gives a pretty good texture. You can use whatever cut of either that you want, but it has to be cubed into 1 inch pieces or so, and you want to use fatty meat. Cuts like the rib eye are great because they’re very marbled. Fat is very important because sauerkraut LOVES fat. It absorbes it and the fat is where the flavor is. So don’t skimp out on the meat, get some good cuts that are nice and fatty and use those. In some years I’ve put in some chopped up bacon for a bit more flavor, but its not necessary if you have enough meat / fat already. Hard to go wrong with some bacon.
Cooking your bigos!
- Drain and rinse 2 jars of sauerkraut, saving the kraut water on the side for later. Then in your large pot combine the kraut with the 3rd jar. Add in the coleslaw mix, peppercorns, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves, halved prunes and mushrooms. Start heating on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Prepare your other ingredients. Chop up the meat into cubes, and dice up the onion and kielbasa into equal sized pieces.
- Once your kraut mixture is warm, add the beef and pork into the pot, stirring everything together.
- While your mixture cooks, stir occasionally. Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat up the olive oil. Once its hot, add the onions and the kielbasa and saute until they are golden brown. Then add the cooked mixture into your giant pot.
- This is where it starts to get good. Once you have the mixture in the pot and cooking, let it go for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- The first taste! The kraut will still be a bit firm and the meat will likely still be in big chunks, but you’re going to have some good flavors forming already. Give it a taste and add salt if needed. Add in some wine (I add it in 1/2 cup portions), stir it, and continue to cook for another hour with occasional stirring.
- This is the most important part of the cooking process now; getting the flavor just right for YOU! The wine will have had time to be absorbed into the sauerkraut now and everything should start coming together into one big mass of delicious stew. Taste it, and see what it needs. If your bigos is too sour for you, add some more prunes or wine to sweeten it up. If it’s too sweet, add some more of the saved sauerkraut water. If you don’t have the dry hint of wine, add some more. Continue cooking like this, with occasional tasting and stirring, for another 1-3 hours.
- By now, you should have a delicious pot of bigos, and you’re more than half way done! Turn off the heat, let it cool (stirring helps since the heat will be trapped near the bottom of the pan), and put it into the fridge. Let it sit overnight, and the flavors will develop as it sits. Resist the urge to eat it as it is, because although it is good, its not nearly as good as it will be the next day.
- The next day, take out your bigos pot and put it back on the stove, heating it up again. Maintain good stirring practices to make sure it doesn’t burn (if it does, its ok! Just take it out and transfer it to a new pot and keep cooking!).
- Keep cooking for another 2-3 hours. Once again, keep stirring and tasting. Add more salt, pepper, wine, prunes, or kraut water depending on what you think it needs. It has to taste good to you.
- (OPTIONAL!) If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can put it into the fridge overnight and cook it for a few more hours on a 3rd day. I don’t usually do this, but the flavor of bigos “peaks” at the 3 day point. Otherwise, skip to the next step.
- You’re done! You have yourself a giant pot of bigos and you can do what you want with it. It should have a beautiful brown color, the meat has basically fallen apart at this point and mixed with the kraut to make a thick, stewy texture. Below are the most common things to do:
What to do with your cooked bigos
At this point, it is really up to you. Since this is multiple day process, traditionally it is made weeks or months ahead of the holidays and then eaten on the 2nd day of Christmas (Christmas day in America). Bigos keeps extremely well in the freezer and, believe it or not, actually gains more flavor as it sits in your freezer.
There you have it, a traditional, Polish bigos recipe you can make today and have for the holidays. It’s surprisingly economical for how much food you actually end up with, it stores well, and it is delicious. What more can you ask for for the holidays?
Feel free to comment your own recipe suggestions or even stories of your own bigos experience 🙂