Bigos, Polish Hunter’s Stew

A national dish of Poland, bigos is a traditional meat-and-cabbage stew, often referred to as a hunter’s stew. The history of bigos stretches back to the 14th century: supposedly, Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, who became king of Poland, served it to his hunting-party guests. The stew is also mentioned in Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem written by Adam Mickiewicz in the 19th century:

In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.

Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in ones mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.

(You’ll notice that historically, bigos is actually more Lithuanian than Polish!)

Bigos, Polish Hunter's Stew

The recipe’s pretty flexible, but one requirement is that there should be lots of different meats — hence the figurative meaning of bigos in Polish, “big mess”. The more festive the occasion, the more varied the composition. Pork, beef, and lamb are all good, as well as game meats like venison or hare, on account of the hunting connection. Smoked meats are also welcome, whether sausages, bacon, or ham. As for the cabbage, sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, or a mix thereof, are all acceptable.

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Latvian Hare Trio, Part 2: Leg Confit, Potato Pancakes, Sauerkraut

After last week’s hare loin, this post features the hare legs with another group of typical Latvian winter flavors: potato, sauerkraut, and animal fat. The recipe is pretty short, because most of the work has been done during the hare preparation.

The only non-trivial element left is the potato pancakes. I’ve already talked about deruny here, but I’m taking a different approach today, simply slicing the potatoes and relying on the starch and salt to bind them all together.

Finally, if you want to make the dish a little bit healthier but still recognizably Latvian, you could prepare a wine reduction to drizzle on the meat, instead of the fat!

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Wild Turkey Schnitzel, Finger Lakes Riesling Sauerkraut and Red Currant Jelly

In my previous wild turkey post, I proposed an original way to prepare the legs of your hard-earned gobbler. This time, I’m tackling the turkey breast, with a far more classic schnitzel recipe.

Although it originated in Austria, schnitzel is commonly served throughout Eastern Europe, where it is made from a variety of meats, especially pork and chicken . So why not wild turkey? I also found wild turkey eggs (which, I imagine, come from turkeys that aren’t all that wild, save for their breed) at the farmers market and thought I could fry them and serve them on top of the meat, Hamburg-style.

Traditional sides for schnitzel consist of potatoes or pickled cabbage. I opted for a variation on the latter, and my sauerkraut recipe is adapted from Marc Haeberlin dans votre cuisine, a cookbook by the chef of the famous Auberge de l’Ill. Of course, since my turkey was bagged near the Finger Lakes, I replaced the Alsace Riesling with something more local. The sauerkraut makes more servings than the schnitzels, because the ingredients are hard to scale down. So either save some for another meal, or invite the neighbors and make twice as many schnitzels!

Finally, you may remember the red currant jelly I posted about last July, claiming it was a great companion to game meat. Well, here’s an occasion to use (some of) it.

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My First Deer, and Bohemian Venison Burgers

Victory! After spending about 11 hours freezing on a stand at the top of a hill in the Mohawk Valley countryside, silently watching this field:

I killed my first deer, on the season opening day just before sunset! The young, antlerless buck showed up at about 200 yards, near the trees you see at the far end of the field. I took a first shot, missed, and, probably not knowing where the noise came from, the deer came towards me for about 50 yards. Fatal mistake, as I shot again and he went down immediately.

Thanks again to huntsman Bob for a great hunting weekend (I also got a turkey, but this is a story for another day).

This is a simple recipe that I created the day I came home from the hunting trip, fighting with exhaustion. It can be made entirely on a grill if you have limited equipment (I give 2 versions of the apple-sauerkraut purée).

The Bohemian twist, brought by the cured pork, the sauerkraut, and the potato bun, is inspired by the many venison dishes I enjoyed during my winter trips to the Czech Republic.

Apple-sauerkraut purée
Yields about 4 servings

1/2 oz butter
2  1/2 oz peeled and sliced green apple
1 oz sauerkraut

  • Brown butter in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the apple and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Transfer to a blender with the sauerkraut, process until smooth, and reserve.
  • Alternatively, you can wrap the quartered apple and and butter in foil and cook on a grill, then mash and mix it with the sauerkraut using a fork.

Bohemian venison burger
Yields 4 servings

4 slices pancetta (or bacon)
24 oz ground venison
black pepper, ground
4 burger buns (preferably potato)
3 oz firm cheese (such as swiss or gouda), coarsely grated
apple-sauerkraut purée

  • Sauté the pancetta in a hot pan until brown on both sides, and reserve. Shape the ground venison into 4 patties without pressing the meat more than necessary. Season generously with salt and pepper, sauté in the same pan over high heat to the desired doneness, then let rest for a couple minutes. Of course, the pancetta and patties can be cooked on a grill instead.
  • Toast the buns with grated cheese on the top halves. Spread each bottom half with apple-sauerkraut purée, then top with a patty and a slice of pancetta. Serve immediately.

Red Alert: Hot Kielbassi at Reading Terminal Market

Red Alert! Eastern European dishes are invading random Western stores and restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?

This time, the alert comes from the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, where AJ Pickle Patch and Salads offers hot kielbassi:

The little sausages, made from relatively lean meat compared to typical links, are cut into chunks and brined in a vinegar and hot pepper mixture. As you would expect, the result is tangy and spicy.

The store also sells other like-minded though less uncommon products, such as hot or dill pickles, and barrel-cured sauerkraut: