My husband comes from an amazing Polish family full of talented cooks, and one of my favorite dishes they prepare is Bigos. If you haven’t heard of Bigos before, it’s a Polish hunter’s stew which some claim to be the national dish of Poland. This is a delicious slow simmered stew, filled with smoky cuts of meat and lots of freshly shredded cabbage. It’s an old-world style dish that pairs wonderfully with a side of simple boiled potatoes and crusty bread for dipping.
This amazing comfort food is perfect to enjoy in the cold winter months, and it happens to be dairy free, gluten free, and Paleo. It takes a bit of time to prepare and cook this, but it’s well worth the effort. The result is a big pot of stew that just gets better the longer it sits, which makes for amazing leftovers. It also freezes beautifully, and can be thawed and reheated right on the stove.
I’m using smoked bacon, polish keilbasa, and a pork shoulder in this. Traditional recipes typically call for any type of leftover meat in place of the pork shoulder, and I’ve also seen recipes calling for everything from chicken to beef. I like the pork shoulder because of its mild flavor and texture, but feel free to experiment to see which meat you prefer. However, it’s important to note that the keilbasa plays a big role in this recipe because it lends all of its delicious smoky flavor to the dish. I would not recommend substituting this ingredient in the recipe as it greatly contributes to the overall flavor.
You may look at your package of dried mushrooms for this recipe and wonder what they’re contributing to the dish and why we aren’t using fresh. You could certainly use fresh mushrooms in this, but dried mushrooms have a deeper, richer flavor and work beautifully in slow braised dishes. If you have a hard time finding dried mushrooms at your supermarket, I’ve used these ones on Amazon with great results.
I used a cabernet for this, but any dry red wine should work wonderfully. I’ve also tried this using white wine with delicious results, and my husband’s Babcia (grandmother) likes to use Riesling. Traditional bigos recipes in my polish cookbooks all seem to call for Madeira, but I haven’t tried this yet.
I was very hesitant to use prunes in this dish. I spent some time researching why in the world Polish cooks were putting them in this recipe, and ultimately I decided to use them. I’m glad that I did! The prunes may seem strange, but they serve as a natural sweetener to help cut through the bitterness of the cabbage and the sauerkraut. I left my prunes whole so they could easily be pulled out when the bigos is done cooking, and no one will ever know they were in there.
Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)
- 1 cup prunes pitted
- 1/2 oz dried mushrooms I used porcini. Polish borowiki mushrooms are traditional
- 2 cups hot water
- 4 pieces of bacon cut into lardons
- 1 onion medium sized, peeled and chopped
- 1 small head cabbage cored and chopped
- 1 lb sauerkraut rinsed well and drained
- 1.5 lb polish keilbasa sliced in to one inch pieces
- 1 lb pork shoulder trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 28 oz canned diced tomatoes drained of the liquid
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- Put your mushrooms and prunes in to a large heat safe bowl and pour the 2 cups of water over them. Let this soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure all pieces are thoroughly soaked.
- Cook the bacon in a dutch oven over medium heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Salt and pepper your pork, and brown it on all sides in the bacon fat. Once it's browned, remove the pork from the pot and set it aside with the bacon.
- Add your cabbage and onion to the pot and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the cabbage is soft.
- Once the cabbage has cooked down a bit and softened, add in your remaining ingredients, the bacon, pork, and the mushroom and prune mixture. Pour most of the water from your mushrooms and prunes in to the pot too. The bottom of the water may be a bit sandy from the mushrooms. You don't want to use that.
- Simmer on low heat for about 3 hours. Taste the bigos to see if it needs more salt or pepper, and season to taste. Serve with a side of simple boiled potatoes and a crusty loaf of bread to soak up the delicious juices.