Bigos (© Mara Yamauchi)
Race day is tomorrow! The first World Championships of the Covid-19 era take place tomorrow as the seaside town of Gdynia in Poland hosts the World Half Marathon Championships. Originally scheduled for March, the world’s best athletes over 21.1km will battle it out along Poland’s Baltic coast, a stone’s throw from the city of Gdansk, the birthplace of Poland’s famous Solidarity movement.
Perhaps the thing I love most about travelling to foreign countries is trying the local food and discovering delicious delicacies that I didn’t even know existed. So this week, I’m making the national dish of Poland – a hearty, warming stew called Bigos, often referred to as ‘Hunters’ stew’.
As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, this stew is just what you’ll need after training out in the cold. A mixture of smoked Polish sausage, sauerkraut, meat and spices, Bigos is full of flavour and keeps well – it even improves with age and reheating! And with fermented sauerkraut as one of its key ingredients, those good bacteria make it healthy for your digestive system too.
Bigos is one of those dishes for which the ingredients seem to vary widely – each family home has its own variation and you can be quite flexible about what you put in it. The meat you include can be pretty much anything, and you’re supposed to include several different types of meat. But I’ve kept my recipe quite simple, using just pork as the smoked sausage gives it plenty of flavour.
Thank you so much to my friend Ania and her mother for tips on making tasty Bigos!
1 onion, chopped finely
1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
300g pork belly, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Half a white cabbage, very finely chopped (I used savoy cabbage)
400g tinned tomatoes
500ml beef stock
10g dried porcini mushrooms
300g smoke Polish sausage eg kabanas, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 apple, grated finely
• Cover the porcini mushrooms with boiling water and leave them to hydrate. Rinse the sauerkraut well in water to reduce the sharpness from the vinegar and squeeze well with your hands.
• Blanch the fresh cabbage in boiling water, drain and set aside.
• Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onions for a few minutes until softened. Add the juniper berries, caraway seeds and the pork. Fry for a few minutes on a high heat to brown the pork (if you like your pork crispy, fry on a high heat in a separate pan first, then add to the onion mixture). Sprinkle over the sugar and stir well.
• Add the sauerkraut, fresh cabbage and tinned tomatoes and mix well. Pour over enough stock to just cover the ingredients in the pan, stir well and simmer for 30mins (too much stock makes it too thin and soupy).
• Meanwhile, finely chop the soaked porcini mushrooms and add them, with their stock, to the pan. Also add the sausage (like the pork, this can be pre-fried) and apple, mix well and simmer for one hour.
• Serve piping hot with a slice of sourdough bread. Reheating Bigos the following day will develop the flavours and make it even tastier.
As they’d say in Poland, ‘smacznego’!