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Release date: 12/28/2004.

You'll find this recipe in it, From AN EXALTATION OF SOUPS,
copyright © 2004
by Patricia Solley,
Published by Three Rivers Press.

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"Bigos was being cooked in every kettle
In human language it is hard to settle
The marvels of its odor, hue and taste;
In poetry's description one has traced
Only the clinking words and clanging rhymes....
This bigos is no ordinary dish,
For it is aptly framed to meet your wish.
Founded upon good cabbage, sliced and sour,
Which, as men say, by its own zest and power
Melts in one's mouth, it settles in a pot
And its dewy bosom folds a lot
Of the best portions of selected meats;
Scullions parboil it then, until heat
Draws from its substance all the living juices,
And from the pot's edge, boiling fluid sluices
And all the air is fragrant with the scent."

--Adam Mickiewicz' epic Pan Tadeusz (1834)
(transl. Watson Kirkconnell)

In a less exalted vein, here's what Sabina Kelly of Woodbridge, Virginia, says about it: "My Dad used to make this in the winter. My sis and i don't care for saurkraut - but it was an event when my dad made this - and we loved it! It's best with homemade mashed potatoes!"

Polish Hunter Stew


Not for vegetarians! This is just crammed with meats and sausages, with the sweetness of apples more than balanced by the sharpness of sauerkraut--but it's hearty and delicious and really quite unforgettable. Traditionally served in Poland as a good-luck New Year's dish, it was originally eaten only by the Polish aristocracy (they being the only ones allowed to hunt game on their estates...and the only ones who could afford so much meat). Many many folks have written in to comment and amend--please see their remarks below. In the meantime, serve hot to 6 people as a filling meal, with boiled potatoes, a dish of sour cream, and lots of bread on the side.

Garnish: sour cream, served on the side

Fry the bacon in a Dutch oven, to render the fat. Drain the bacon on the side and reserve. Then toss the pork chunks, garlic, onions, and mushrooms into the rendered fat. Saute on medium low until the meat is browned--about 5 minutes.

Pour in the stock, tomatoes with their juice, sugar, bay leaves, sauerkraut, and apples, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Stir in the ham and sausage, then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 30 more minutes.

When ready to serve, remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the reserved bacon, and serve with boiled potatoes, a bowl of sour cream, and thick, crusty bread.

Comments and variations:

  • From Mike Bowe of Wokingham, UK: Re the Bigos recipes - I was treated to Bigos by some Polish friends visiting England a few years ago, and they gave me the huge pot of the leftover dish, which they suggested I freeze for later use. A few days later, hacked off a chunk, then heated slowly - SUPERB (and improved every time we grabbed another chunk over the next few days). I beleive this reflects a historic point mentioned by my friends from bygone days, where hunters would freeze a Bigos, put it in their saddlebags, store in a snowdrift in the forest overnight, and hack off a chunk each night. Food for several days!
  • From Raina, Holland Michigan: I was raised in Belarus. I have Polish roots in my family. My aunt made bigos every time when I came to visit her during my school winter break. It was my great grandmother's recipe. My aunt lived all her 86 years with her Polish relatives in the same village. She always put ingredients in pot layer by layer and always told me do not forget that bigos does not like to be blended or mixed. She put a lot of chopped onion on very bottom, next layer by layer: meaty pork ribs, cut in quarters small potatos, big pieces of Kilbasa or fresh sausages, bay leaves, pre-washed dried mushrooms, pre-washed sauerkraut, one chopped onion fried in a cup of sliced salt fat pork. She added a cup of water in a skillet to wash the remaining fat from it and then put it on the very top. (Sauerkraut amount was equal to amount of all ingredients together).She put on a heavy lid and baked bigos for 3-4 hrs until it turned light brown. She liked when bigos was dark. Potatoes, pork and sausages kept their shape. Try and you will fall in love with this unforgetable food.
  • AUTHENTICITY ALERT! I've been contacted by Kazimierz Ziezio, who gives the following excellent advice to true hunters: "Some Hunter's stew--Where's the game? Add vension! Maybe some pheasant and rabbit. Saute the meat in butter add good Hungarian paprika, then sauté the mushrooms in the drippings. Add the best kielbasa you can afford. Not to do a plug, but go to if you can't find kielbasa made by a Pole. Wash the kraut out of the sourkraut! Then slowly cook the Bigos a few times in a crock for a few days. Serve it with sour cream, rye bread, good beer or dry mead!!" Kaz, prompted by me, says about himself, "My dad was not a hunter, but my uncles were. My dad would usually make Bigos for his poker games with the guys he grew up with on the Polish side of Utica, NY. That was where I learned to make his variation & play poker. But I've also had Bigos in a Polish-Chinese resturant that used to be open locally where the Polish chef made "Bigos from Warsawa"--tomato based & completely meatless! And in Poland where it resembled spare ribs & sour kraut. There are as many variations as there are Polish kitchens. Wesolych Swiat!"
  • Sophie Dill of Las Vegas, Nevada, notes: "being of Polish heritage--this soup always included chunks of potato. Also, adding 1/2 head of fresh cabbage makes it a much healthier soup! Otherwise, it brings back memories of "soup for dinner"--about 5 nights a week when I was growing up, about 50 years ago!!"
  • Kazimierz Michalak adds that, from an eastern Poland point of view, the best variation is the one that uses equal parts sauerkraut and cabbage in the mix--and game, of course.
  • Wladek Wolanski of Coatbridge says, "My father was from Drochobycz in pre-war Poland and often took over the kitchen to cook Bigos,which was rich, hearty and utterly delicious.He used to add stewing steak and pork with plenty garlic, also canned tomatoes and tomato puree to the recipe.His friend , my Uncle Tony was a Polish butcher who made a vast array of Kielbasa which was enthusiastically added to the pot.Usually the more piwo that had been consumed , the better the resulting dish seemed to be.Not a classical chef tip but nonetheless it "seemed" to work. Bigos has been a great addition to Scottish nights in our family especially big football matches wiyh a good crowd of friends round."
  • Here's Shirley P., trying it for the first time: "At the time when I was making it, I kept thinking, this is a weird soup. But now every bowl I have, I like it more. I look forward to coming home and having a bowl of it."
  • And Janina from Houston: "RE: Bigos vs. suerkraut soup. I noticed that some comments refer to bigos as 'soup'. Bigos is quite different from sauerkraut soup -- it has very little liquid, the recipes are quite different. So please--while cooking bigos disregard any suggestions concerning the sauerkraut soup."