I’m really excited to show you my family’s special slow cooker recipe for Bigos Królewski. It’s a tasty Polish Hunter’s Stew that’s perfect for cold winter nights. Using a slow cooker makes it even more flavourful and easy to prepare. Made with sauerkraut, cabbage, beef, and Polish smoked sausage called Kielbasa, this stew is super tasty and will make you want more. So, let’s put on our aprons and get started! Do roboty!
Check out my other recipes for Traditional Polish dishes:
- Hassle-Free Cooking: Easily prepare your Hunter’s Stew in a slow cooker.
- Just Set, Then Relax: With little to no fuss, let your Bigos cook while you enjoy your time with Piwo.
- Deeply Rich Flavour: Delight in the profound depth of the stew’s taste.
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The Essence of Bigos: Poland’s Signature Stew
What is Polish Bigos – Hunter’s Stew?
Bigos, often hailed as the “Polish hunter’s stew,” is a beloved traditional dish from Poland. For centuries, people have relished its rich flavours. Originating in the 16th century, it was a staple for farmers and those living in Poland’s countryside. It was particularly favoured by hunters because one could easily prepare it over open fires, incorporating any game they’d caught. This stew, with its deep roots in Polish culture, continues to be a testament to the country’s culinary heritage.
The Historical Evolution: Bigos Królewski vs. Hultajski
Polish Hunter’s Stew, deeply embedded in Polish culture, wasn’t only a favourite among hunters and farmers but also graced the tables of the elite. The version called Bigos Królewski, or “Royal Bigos”, was especially popular among the nobility. What made this Royal stew so special? It boasted richer ingredients not commonly found in everyday meals. With the means to splurge on lavish ingredients, the nobility incorporated a diverse range of meats and imported spices, often beyond the reach of the average person. This sumptuous stew clearly showcased their affluence and stature.
On the other hand, those with tighter purse strings rustled up Bigos Hultajski, commonly referred to as the “rogue’s bigos”. Born from necessity, this version was packed with more cabbage and budget-friendly vegetables. Although it didn’t have the grandeur of Bigos Królewski, Bigos Hultajski held its own charm, symbolising the ingenuity and tenacity of the Polish community.
Medieval Hunters and Variations of Polish Stew Today
This famous stew, deeply rooted in Poland’s rich hunting heritage, boasts a traditional recipe that’s evolved over time. In the past, hunters often added wild game meats such as venison and wild boar, giving the stew a robust flavour that truly reflected the forest’s essence. As time went on, regional and personal tastes introduced variations. Some have added vegetables like carrots and potatoes or even tomato paste. Others have chosen aromatic touches like bay leaves, juniper berries, or nutmeg. Intriguingly, many have also infused the stew with red wine or beer, enhancing its depth of flavour. While many still cherish wild game meats, there’s a growing preference for the smoky taste of meats like kielbasa or bacon. But no matter the tweaks, the heart of Bigos remains: a rich, flavourful stew.
Slow Cooking: The Secret to Perfect Bigos
Bigos, often lovingly referred to as a traditional delight, owes its unique charm to the time-honoured slow cooking method. Typically, people cook it in a cast iron pot called a “Kociołek“, gently simmering it over a cosy fireplace. As the hours tick by, the ingredients meld together, letting the flavours mature and intensify. This leisurely process not only infuses the stew with deep, rich tastes but also ensures the meat becomes tender and succulent. The result? A hearty and delectable stew that truly hits the spot.
Bigos in Celebrations: A Dish that Brings Polish Families Together
Bigos, a cornerstone of Polish cuisine, is frequently enjoyed during special events like Christmas, Easter, weddings, and birthdays. This dish not only unites people but has also been a favourite for countless family generations. Lately, Bigos has become a beloved comfort food globally, not just in Poland. Even with its many versions, Bigos continues to showcase Poland’s deep-rooted culinary history, dating back to medieval times.
Bigos Ingredients: A Melange of Flavours and Textures
At the heart of Bigos is a perfect mix of top-notch sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, paired with prime meats like pork, beef, and smoked sausage (Kielbasa). Onions and wild mushrooms, typically porcini or boletus, add a unique and earthy taste. To give it an extra kick, many add a dash of red wine or beer.
I love making Polish Hunter’s Stew using a slow cooker, but it tastes equally mouth-watering when made in a traditional stovetop pot or a Dutch oven. This hearty stew is the perfect comfort food for those cold winter days. Smacznego!
How to prepare Bigos Królewski:
Bigos Królewski – Polish Hunter’s Stew Recipe
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- 14 oz Beef – Stewing Cut - (400g) cut into large dice, chuck, skirt, leg, or flank works well
- 8.8 oz Kielbasa - (250g) smoked sausage, such as Podwawelska
- 5.3 oz Lardons - (150g) or chopped bacon instead
- 17.6 oz Sauerkraut - (500g) drained from liquid (you can add liquid to Bigos if you prefer more sour version)
- 17.6 oz White cabbage - sliced
- 1 Large onion - diced
- 1 Apple - peeled and diced
- 1 cup Dried mushrooms - (50g) porcini or boletus
- 1 Prune
- 2 Bay leaves
- 4 Allspice berries - (or 1/4 tsp allspice powder)
- 1 tsp Marjoram
- 1 tsp Caraway
- 1 tsp Honey
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
- 1 pinch Nutmeg
- 4 cups Boiling water - (1L) enough to cover everything in the slow cooker
- 1 glass Red wine - (240ml)
- 1 tbsp Tomato puree
- Pour 4 cups of boiling water over the dried mushrooms and allow them to soak for about 15 minutes. After they are hydrated, remove the mushrooms from the water. To remove any grit or sand, strain the mushroom-infused water through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the strained water to the slow cooker, but leave the last 1/4 cup of water behind to prevent any mushroom sediment from getting into your dish.
- In a frying pan over high heat, sear the lardons and sausage until browned. Once browned, transfer the meat to the slow cooker, making sure to leave the fat in the frying pan for the next step.
- In the same pan, sauté the diced onions until they become soft and attain a light brown colour. Afterward, transfer the onions to the slow cooker.
- Brown the diced beef in the same pan in two separate batches to ensure even browning. After each batch is browned, transfer the beef to the slow cooker.
- Combine all remaining ingredients, including the rehydrated mushrooms, in the slow cooker. Stir well to ensure even mixing. Place the lid on the slow cooker. Set to high heat and cook for 5 hours, or set to low and cook for 7 hours. If possible, stir after the initial hour and then hourly thereafter to evenly distribute flavours. However, if you're not at home, it's okay to skip the stirring.
- After the Bigos has finished cooking, take out the bay leaves. Serve warm, ideally with sourdough bread or boiled potatoes. Smacznego!
- Use a slow cooker: A slow cooker is ideal for making Bigos as it allows the flavours to develop slowly over time. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can also use a Dutch oven or a large pot on the stove, but you’ll need to keep an eye on it and stir it regularly to prevent sticking or burning.
- Adjust the seasoning: Taste the Bigos as it cooks and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may need to add more salt, pepper, or honey depending on your preferences.
- Let it Rest: Like many stews, Bigos tastes even better the next day, once the flavours have had a chance to meld together. Consider making it a day in advance and reheating it gently on the stovetop before serving.
- Traditional Accompaniments: Bigos is traditionally served with sourdough bread or boiled potatoes, but you can also serve it with other hearty breads or grains. Some people also like to serve it with a dollop of sour cream on top.
- Beer Infused Bigos: For a unique twist on the traditional Bigos recipe, consider substituting water and wine with beer. The malt and hops from the beer will infuse the stew with a rich, deep flavour, complementing the meaty and tangy notes of the dish. A dark lager or stout can particularly enhance the stew’s robustness, making it even more hearty and satisfying. Na Zdrowie!