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BIGOs (Traditional Polish Sauerkraut Stew)

This traditional Polish sauerkraut stew is said to have been introduced by Władysław II Jagiełło, a Polish prince who became king in 1385 and served it to his hunting party guests. It’s key to rinse the sauerkraut thoroughly before adding it to the stew. Bigos recipes vary widely—this one is a Legs Inn favorite (if you haven’t been to this iconic local restaurant yet, check it out here). The flavor of the stew is even better after it has rested, in the refrigerator, for a day or two.

Makes about 10 hearty servings

Ingredients

  • 8    slices bacon, finely chopped
  • ½   pound lean beef, cut in 1-inch dice
  • ½   pound lean, boneless pork shoulder or venison, cut in 1-inch dice
  • 1    large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2    large carrots, peeled and cut in ½-inch dice
  • ½   pound small button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 6    ounces tomato paste
  • 2    cups beef stock
  • 3    bay leaves
  • 2    cups sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
  • 4    cups cabbage, shredded
  • 5    canned prunes, pitted, or ¼ cup dry red wine
  • ¼   teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • ½   pound smoked Polska kielbasa, sliced in 1-inch pieces

Preparation

In a large stockpot or saucepan (8-quart or larger), fry the bacon over medium high heat for three minutes, or until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden. Drain the bacon fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons, or enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the beef and pork or venison, stirring constantly for about five minutes, or until all sides of the meat are browned. Stir in the onion, carrots, and mushrooms and sauté the vegetables until they are slightly caramelized, about another 3 minutes.
In a small bowl, dilute the tomato paste with ½ cup of the beef stock, adding the stock slowly and stirring constantly.

Still over high heat, add the rest of the beef stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze it. Slowly stir in the tomato paste mixture, and then the bay leaves, sauerkraut, cabbage, and prunes or wine. Season with the salt and pepper, tasting the stew and adding more if needed. Cover the pot and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Stir in the kielbasa. Cover and simmer the stew over low heat for about 30 minutes. Serve the stew immediately, or reheated after it’s had a chance for flavors to develop for a day or so in the refrigerator.