Big Things from Bigos

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Strangely, the first time I tried Polish food, it was in Italy.

I was living with a Polish girl, Marta Brzoska, as part of a teach-abroad program in Sicily, who happened to have a mother who was an excellent cook. She would send her daughter back to the capital of gastronomy with jars full of her home cooking to make sure she got the best in Polish cuisine, even while away from home.One of Marta’s favourite take away treats was bigos, and to this day I can still recall the taste.

Bigos, which means ‘pie’ in the Polish language, is traditional Polish smoked meat stew with a sauerkraut base, also known as Hunters’s stew, as the meat content  is said to be derived from the hunter’s daily kill. As a staple, bigos usually includes ham, bacon and sausage, but is also found to contain beef, veal, venison and other game.

As well as an abundance of flavoursome meat, the sauerkraut in bigos is barrel cured, giving an even stronger smoky flavour, which is irresistible to anyone who smells it.

Preserving the bacon fat to use for frying other ingredients is also key to intensifying the smoky flavour of this Polish masterpiece.

There is nothing more wholesome and satisfying than a plate of hot smoked bigos, especially in these cold winter months. However, I have also heard bigos referred to (by two Polish people) as a peasant’s dish! I found this unbelievable, not just because of the diversity of ingredients, including prunes and dried mushrooms, but also because of the length of preparation and richness of flavour.

Recipes vary greatly from region to region, as well as in other parts of Europe, as bigos has also been named a national dish of the Ukraine, as well as having very traditional ties to Lithuania and Belarus.

The usual accompaniment to bigos is mashed potato or rye bread, and having tasted traditional Polish rye bread I would highly suggest the latter.

Polish rye bread far surpasses more popular bread choices available in supermarkets and this is due to its extremely rich taste. Many of the popular loaves on the shelves are often extremely delicate in flavour, and one bite leaves the mouth full of air and little else. It has a deliciously malty taste, and thickly sliced with a knob of butter; this is the perfect snack.

So try a plate of bigos this winter, a dish so good it has made it into Polish literature!

But my advice is take the time to prepare a batch yourself. Upon my return to England I purchased a few different jars of ready prepared bigos, but none has surpassed that of Marta Brzoska’s mother!


5 thoughts on “Big Things from Bigos

    Marta Brzoska said:
    January 7, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    What an excellent description! Now that I am back in Italy, I would love to share a plate of bigos again….The bad thing is that I can’t cook THAT well. Why do moms always cook better than their daugthers? I agree that ‘bigos can be referred to as a peasant’s dish’ ……or simply traditional Polish food….There is one thing that you missed Daisy: ”bigos” in everyday language means something else. We often say ”narobic bigosu” when we mess things up or when we are in trouble that we created ourselves(usually by accident;) Uppppssss. Looking at a plate of bigos it’s hard to define what’s inside….this is probably where the saying comes from!

    Daisy Atkinson said:
    January 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    That’s brilliant! While I was writing I looked for you on Facebook, so I could get a quote – Narobic Bigosu!!!

    Una said:
    January 8, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Hey Daisy, you make me want to taste Marta’s Mother’s bigos now too!!! 🙂

    Betsy at Parenting is Funny said:
    October 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    That looks super tasty. said:
    October 21, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Hi Daisy, We totally fell in love with bigos when we were in Poland and are searching for an authentic recipe. Any suggestions? All the best, Terri

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