Traditional Polish beef Bigos
|Place of origin:|
|sauerkraut and meat (mainly kielbasa)|
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There is no single recipe for a savoury stew of cabbage and meat, as recipes vary from region to region and from family to family. Typical ingredients include white cabbage, sauerkraut (kapusta kiszona in Polish), various cuts of meat and sausages, often whole or puréed tomatoes, honey and mushrooms. The meats may include pork (often smoked), ham, bacon, sausage, veal, beef, and, as bigos is considered a hunter's stew, venison, rabbit, or other game; leftover cuts find their way into the pot as well. It may be seasoned with pepper, caraway, juniper berries, bay leaf, marjoram, pimenta, dried or smoked plums, and other ingredients.
Bigos is usually served with mashed potatoes or rye bread. As with many stews, bigos can be kept in a cool place or refrigerated and then reheated later; it is said that its flavour actually intensifies when reheated. One observed tradition is to keep a pot of bigos going for a week or more, replenishing ingredients as necessary (cf. perpetual stew). This, the seasonal availability of cabbage, and its richness in vitamin C made bigos a traditional part of the winter diet in Poland and elsewhere. It is a popular dish in Poland to be served on the Second Day of Christmas.
Bigos is said by some to have been introduced to Poland by Jogaila, a Lithuanian Grand Duke who became Polish king Władysław Jagiełło in 1385 and who supposedly served it to his hunting-party guests. Metaphorically, bigos means "confusion", "big mess" or "trouble" in Polish. However, Polish linguists trace the word bigos to a German rather than Lithuanian origin. The PWN Dictionary of Foreign Words speculates that it derives from the past participle begossen of a German verb meaning "to douse", as bigos was doused with wine in earlier periods.
Recipes for bigos vary widely. According to some, the amount of meat should equal the amount of cabbage. Some prefer to use only fermented cabbage, sauerkraut; others combine cabbage and sauerkraut in equal proportion. The sauerkraut may be washed or unwashed. Most recipes have a few things in common:
- The dish is based on sauerkraut.
- More than one type of meat is used.
- Kielbasa is included among the meat.
- Plenty of peppercorns.
- Dried mushrooms or brown mushrooms.
- Diced tomatoes.
Representative recipes can be found online. Because preparation varies, many recipes have their adherents. There are also vegeterian alternatives with differing suggestions for meat replacements.
In order of volume: 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) sauerkraut, washed and drained; 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) white cabbage, shredded; 500 grams (1.1 lb) sausage, sliced into 1-cm pieces; 250 grams (0.55 lb) smoked ham, cubed; 250 grams (0.55 lb) smoked pork, cubed; 250 grams (0.55 lb) bacon, chopped; 250 grams (0.55 lb) beef or venison, cubed; 60 grams (0.13 lb) dried mushrooms; 4 pitted prunes, chopped; 2 apples, cored and cubed; 1 tomato, cubed; 1 onion, diced; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 tsp allspice; 2 bay leaves; 1 tbsp peppercorns.
Prepare the ingredients as listed above. Simmer the cabbage until soft (1/2 to 1 hour), then drain. Meanwhile, cook the bacon and set aside, preserving the fat. In the bacon fat, sauté the onions and garlic, and brown the remaining meat except the sausage. Combine all ingredients in a pot and cook: in a slow cooker, set on low for 5–10 hours; on the stove, cook briefly on medium and then simmer 2 to 3 hours.
Refrigerate any leftovers and reheat for serving. The flavor improves each time, peaking around the third day. Many like to freeze it before thawing, reheating, and eating. Traditionally, it was left out in the cold to keep.
Bigos in literature
The great Polish epic poem "Pan Tadeusz" written by poet, writer and philosopher Adam Mickiewicz, features a poetic description of bigos eaten by members of the aristocratic szlachta returning from hunting:
In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.
Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in ones mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.
- — Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz, Book 4: Diplomacy and Hunt
- Translated by Marcel Weyland
W kociołkach bigos grzano; w słowach wydać trudno
Bigosu smak przedziwny, kolor i woń cudną;
Słów tylko brzęk usłyszy i rymów porządek,
Ale treści ich miejski nie pojmie żołądek.
Aby cenić litewskie pieśni i potrawy,
Trzeba mieć zdrowie, na wsi żyć, wracać z obławy.
Przecież i bez tych przypraw potrawą nie lada
Jest bigos, bo się z jarzyn dobrych sztucznie składa.
Bierze się doń siekana, kwaszona kapusta,
Która, wedle przysłowia, sama idzie w usta;
Zamknięta w kotle, łonem wilgotnym okrywa
Wyszukanego cząstki najlepsze mięsiwa;
I praży się, aż ogień wszystkie z niej wyciśnie
Soki żywne, aż z brzegów naczynia war pryśnie
I powietrze dokoła zionie aromatem.
- — Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz,
- Księga czwarta: Dyplomatyka i łowy
Notes and references
- Barbara Rolek, "Polish Hunter's Stew Recipe - Bigos", (a Polish national dish) About.com, a part of The New York Times Company
- Kathryn Vercillo, A Polish national dish: "Vegetarian Bigos Recipe", 2010, kathrynvercillo.hubpages.com/hub/Vegetarian-Bigos-Recipe-An-Update-To-the-Traditional-Polish-Dish
- "Kapusta kiszona (sauerkraut) is the basis for Poland's national dish bigos (sauerkraut with a variety of meats)..." [in:] Polish Holiday Cookery by Robert Strybel, 2003, p. 14; "Bigos, the national dish of Poland — a hunter's stew of mixed meats and vegetables" [in:] The food lover's companion to Portland by Lisa Shara Hall, Roger J. Porter, 1996
- Słownik wyrazów obcych
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