Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)

Bigos is a hearty Polish stew made with fresh, smoked, and cured meat, wild and cultivated mushrooms, and a hefty dose of sauerkraut. A perfect cozy meal for a winter day.

Polish Hunter's Stew
Elise Bauer

Bigos, a hearty, cabbage and pork-based stew, has been called the national dish of Poland. It definitely has an Eastern European feel to it: cabbage and sauerkraut, lots of different meats—many of the them smoked—and a variety of mushrooms. Anyone who knows anything about Eastern Europe knows they are mad about mushrooms.

Apparently, the original bigos was made with wild game. But over the centuries—the dish is said to be close to 700 years old—it has become a stew of many domestic meats. Smoked sausage, mostly kielbasa, is a given, as is either bacon or a smoked ham hock. Fresh sausages, pork shoulder, veal or beef are also used.

Polish Hunter's Stew
Elise Bauer

Bigos: A Stew With Many Variations

You should know that there is no one set way to make bigos. Every cook has her own secrets. So, far as I can tell, the only constants are: many different meats, cabbage, mushrooms and black pepper. There are two main branches to the dish, one using tomatoes and tomato paste, the other using prunes. I decided on prunes here.

Start With Good Kraut

A word on the sauerkraut. While you can make this dish with vinegared sauerkraut, you will need to rinse and wash it several times to remove most of the vinegary taste. You should spend some effort to find simple brined sauerkraut, which is kept refrigerated. Bubbies is an excellent brand.

Use as many different kinds of mushrooms as you can, and definitely try to find dried porcini – most bigos recipes call for it. We used, dried wild mushrooms, fresh cremini mushrooms and a “chef’s sampler” pack of fresh mushrooms for this recipe.

Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)

Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 40 mins
Servings 10 to 12 servings

I used beer as the liquid, although lots of people use red wine. If you are making the tomato-based version, skip the beer and use the can of tomato sauce. If you cannot drink alcohol, use some beef stock.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried porcini or other wild mushrooms

  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, optional

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder

  • 1 to 2 pounds kielbasa or other smoked sausage

  • 1 25-ounce jar fresh sauerkraut (we recommend Bubbies, which you may be able to find in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket)

  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 1 green cabbage, cored and chopped

  • Salt

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste, optional

  • 1 smoked ham hock

  • 1 pound fresh Polish sausage, optional

  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds

  • 2 tablespoons dried marjoram

  • 1 bottle pilsner or lager beer

  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce, optional

  • 20 prunes, sliced in half, optional

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons mustard or horseradish, optional

Method

  1. Prep the ingredients:

    Pour hot tap water over the dried mushrooms and submerge them for 20 to 40 minutes, or until soft.

    Grind or crush the juniper berries (if using) and black peppercorns roughly; you don’t want a powder.

    Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, about 2 inches and set aside.

    Cut the sausages into similar-sized chunks and set aside.

    Drain the sauerkraut and set aside.

    Clean off any dirt from the mushrooms and cut them into large pieces; leave small ones whole.

  2. Brown the pork shoulder:

    In a large lidded pot, heat the bacon fat or vegetable oil for a minute or two. Working in batches if necessary, brown the pork shoulder over medium-high heat. Do not crowd the pan. Set the browned meat aside.

  3. Add the onions and cabbage, then the tomato paste:

    Put the onion and fresh cabbage into the pot and sauté for a few minutes, stirring often, until the cabbage is soft. Sprinkle a little salt over them. The vegetables will give off plenty of water. When they do, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.

    If you are making the tomato-based version, add the tomato paste here. Once the pot is scraped and the cabbage and onions soft, remove from the pot and set aside with the pork shoulder.

  4. Add the mushrooms, pork, cabbage, onions and seasonings:

    Add the mushrooms and cook them without any additional oil, stirring often, until they release their water. Once they do, sprinkle a little salt on the mushrooms.

    When the water is nearly all gone, add back the pork shoulder, the cabbage-and-onion mixture. Then, add the ham hock, kielbasa, optional Polish sausage, caraway seeds, and marjoram.

  5. Add the beer (or tomato sauce) and simmer:

    Add the beer, if using, or the tomato sauce if you're making the tomato-based version. Stir well to combine.

    You should not have enough liquid to submerge everything. That’s good: Bigos is a “dry” stew, and besides, the ingredients will give off more liquid as they cook. Bring everything to a simmer, cover the pot and cook gently for at least 2 hours.

    Bigos is better the longer it cooks, but you can eat it once the ham hock falls apart. Check at 2 hours, and then every 30 minutes after that.

  6. Discard the bones and fat, then add the prunes and cook longer:

    When the hock is tender, fish it out and pull off the meat and fat from the bones. Discard the bones and the fat, then chop the meat roughly and return to the pot. Add the prunes (if using), and cook until they are tender, at least 30 more minutes.

  7. Add the mustard just before serving:

    Bigos is best served simply, with rye bread and a beer. If you want a little kick, add the mustard (or horseradish) right before you eat it.

    Bigos improves with age, too, which is why this recipe makes so much. Your leftovers will be even better the next day.

Polish Hunter's Stew
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
584 Calories
42g Fat
20g Carbs
32g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 584
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 42g 54%
Saturated Fat 15g 73%
Cholesterol 129mg 43%
Sodium 1312mg 57%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 32g
Vitamin C 63mg 314%
Calcium 138mg 11%
Iron 4mg 24%
Potassium 1084mg 23%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.