Hunting for Some Stew
When my Mom was in town on Saturday we were wandering the streets of my neighborhood, basking in the almost 70* weather, when we stumbled upon a little store. At first we thought it was sketchy, hidden behind a Rite Aid parking lot with no windows and hardly any signage. But Mom and I are adventurous, so we checked it out. And I walked right into heaven.
This wasn’t actually a sketch store, but rather an International market! Shelves were lined with fresh produce, every type of cured meat you desire, jars and boxes covered with words and letters I didn’t recognize. Every cheese listed its country of origin, there were bins of Russian dumplings and home made French pastries in a glass case. I immediately wanted to try everything I could get my hands on. I know that with Haymarket and now this store, Bazaar, Stop & Shop and I might not be such good friends anymore.
Baazar is home to mostly Russian and Eastern European fare, which reminded me of my old stomping grounds in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the quintessential Polish neighborhood. My need to go back to Bazaar this week, pick up some groceries, and attempt an authentic Polish meal was overwhelming. Intimidating as well, since Z is Polish and his grandmother is, by far, the most amazing Polish cook ever. I have been lucky to eat many a meal cooked by Babcia and I wanted to replicate my favorite: bigos.
Bigos is the national dish of Poland, also known as “Hunter’s Stew”. It is a dish for which no real recipe actually exists. Every region, city, family, and home has a different way of making it. But there are always two essential ingredients: sauerkraut and kielbasa. That, along with some combination of bacon, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, dried prunes, apples, and various other meats are stewed together to create a hearty and warming dish. It is amazing. And I had to have it.
*Note: After setting my mind on bigos this morning I started reading recipes only to discover that it is supposed to cook not only for hours, but for days! But I figured “Hey, wing it!” So I did. In that way, it is not very “traditional”, but the flavors are still the same.
Faster, Healthier Bigos
2 lbs good quality Polish kielbasa, sliced into 1/2 thick rounds
1 lb sauerkraut, drained
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 pint mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
In a large pan, saute the onions and garlic until soft. Add the mushrooms and soften.
Add the drained sauerkraut to the pan along with the paprika, pepper, and allspice. Add 1/2 cup of water and heat through until simmering. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the kielbasa and 1/2 cup more of water. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the honey or agave nectar. This will cut through the intense vinegar flavor from the sauerkraut. If it is still too strong, add a little more. Add more of the seasonings to taste.
Serve garnished with parsley and a side of boiled potatoes or crusty bread. One of the recipes I read said to garnish with sprigs of parsley so it looks like a hunter’s hat. I loved that!
I was nervous steering so far from the traditional recipe for this dish. I didn’t have any bacon or 1 lb of pork lying around, or some freshly caught game from the day’s hunt. Plus, I wanted to keep it a little healthier, if I could. And the time! I just didn’t have it! I cooked this dish in 45 minutes from start to finish, when you are supposed to let it rest overnight and re-cook it the next day.
And the result? So good. I believe that, because the flavors of the kielbasa and sauerkraut are so strong, this dish will be flavorful no matter how long you cook it for. The sauerkraut stays a little crunchy and has a lovely texture. The meal is so earthy I can see why it is called Hunter’s Stew. It almost smelled like the woods, with the mushrooms and cured meat. And what did Z think? He said it tasted as good as his grandmother’s. I know it probably didn’t, but that is still the nicest compliment I have received. We just won’t tell Babcia 🙂
Have you ever made a meal that was supposed to cook for longer than it did?
Side note: I had a running PR today! 3 miles in 27:30 doing HIIT intervals! Super happy 🙂