It is hard to imagine a dish more synonymous with Polish-American culture than Kielbasa and Sauerkraut. And yet, it came as a complete surprise to me that this simple dish is actually a scaled down version of 'Bigos', the national dish of Poland.
Bigos or Hunter's Stew is a hearty meat and sauerkraut stew which has many regional and family variations.
Various meats, sauerkraut, cabbage and mushrooms form the base of the stew, which is typically braised in red wine and spices (including marjoram, bay leaf, juniper berries and black pepper). Some cooks make a tomato version, while others add dried prunes or plums to balance the acidity of the sauerkraut.
My stew was more "green market-driven" than "hunt-driven" and contained country-style spare ribs, a smoked ham hock and smoked kielbasa. Sauerkraut, local cabbage, fresh marjoram and several types of fresh and dry mushrooms rounded things off.
Varying from tradition, I used pilsner beer in lieu of red wine and I omitted both the tomatoes and prunes -- although the notion of adding dried fruit at the end seems very Polish and quite intriquing.
This stew is meant to cook for a long time, which makes it well suited for a slow cooker. I braised the stew in a large Le Crueset French Oven in the oven, which also worked out very well. The stew is done when the braised meat falls off the bone, similar to cooking beef short ribs or osso buco.
When finished, this stew is rich and deeply satisfying. I served my rendition with boiled red potatoes, more Pilsner and some grainy mustard on the side. The Poles typically enjoy it with rye bread and horseradish.
This is Eastern European comfort food at its' best. As the days get colder and shorter, why not give it a try.
The printable recipe is here.