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The Hirshon Polish Hunters Stew – Bigos Myśliwski


Ingredients

Scale
  • ¼ pound hickory smoked bacon, in one piece
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 lb Kielbasa, quartered
  • ½ lb venison stew meat (strongly preferred) or use beef
  • ¼ lb of mild ham, in one piece
  • ¼ pound pork stew meat
  • ½ cup lard (preferred) or oil
  • 2 cups dried wild mushrooms – In Poland, you would use grzyby leśne, which you’ll find in any supermarket and are a mixture of dried forest mushrooms. You can probably find something similar just about anywhere, but make sure that they are wild forest mushrooms and not something like champignon as they simply don’t have enough flavor. TFD prefers a blend of dried porcini, dried morels and dried champignons
  • 5 large garlic cloves
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 ½ lb. drained sauerkraut (do not rinse)
  • 5 cups white cabbage (TFD prefers Napa), shredded
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
  • 2 ½ teaspoons marjoram
  • 1 tsp. freshly-ground allspice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • ¼ cup plum butter (known in Polish as powidła) or use plum jam
  • Porcini or morel mushroom powder to taste (optional but highly recommended)

Instructions

  1. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl with enough warm water to cover them completely, and leave them to soak.
  2. Fry the pork and venison or beef in half of the fat until it is browned. Add the sliced onions, cover and braise until the meat is half cooked.
  3. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the sauerkraut, either using your hands, or put it in a colander and press it down with a wooden spoon.
  4. Put the sauerkraut and bacon together in a large pan with a little water, some allspice and the bay leaves. Bring it to the boil, and then turn it down and let it simmer.
  5. There are a couple of important things to note at this point. Firstly that the finished dish should be quite thick and not swimming in liquid, and that you will be adding wine as well as liquids from the mushrooms and the meat a bit later, so you should add just enough water now to prevent the cabbage from burning and allow the bacon to boil.
  6. Again – the key is this isn’t WET. It’s not a stew in the traditional sense but the bigos should be almost dry with a reduction of all the flavors coating it, like a carbonara. If it’s too wet, the meat falls apart and makes a mess and it isn’t bigos.
  7. Secondly, it is important not to add any salt to the dish at all until the cabbage is completely cooked, otherwise it will prevent the cabbage from softening.
  8. When the bacon is half cooked, remove it, and leave the cabbage on the heat.
  9. Strain the mushrooms, and cut them into slivers, then add both the mushrooms and the water they were soaked in to the cabbage.
  10. Cut the cooked pork and beef, together with the bacon into medium-sized chunks, and add them all together with the onions and any juices from the meat to the cabbage.
  11. Cook over a medium heat till the cabbage and the meat are cooked through and soft. Sauerkraut has a tendency to stick, so it is very important not to use too high a heat, and to remember to give it a good stir from time to time.
  12. While it is cooking, cut the sausage into half moon slices, and the ham into cubes, and fry them in the rest of the fat. When they are cooked, add them to the cabbage, together with the remaining spices, prune jam, dried mushroom powder to taste and red wine.
  13. Bring the whole thing to the boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  14. At this point your bigos is finished and ready to eat, and it should taste wonderful. If you want to be really traditional and really get the very most flavor into the dish though, you have a lot more work to do.
  15. (optional)
  16. Traditionally bigos was cooked, cooled down and then reheated and recooled for seven days in a row in order to ensure the perfect mingling of all flavors.
  17. After cooking allow your bigos to cool completely and then refrigerate it overnight.
  18. The following day slowly and gently bring the whole thing up to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer it for 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it cool completely before putting it back into the fridge for the night.
  19. Repeat for another 5 days.
  20. (end optional)
  21. Drink either with shots of good quality frozen vodka or a bottle of the same red wine that you put into the bigos itself.
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