There are a lot of different recipes out there for Polish Hunter’s Stew (also called Bigos). But in the end, it’s always about two things: meat and cabbage. Hunter’s Stew is a hearty dish made from bacon, kielbasa, a pound or more of meat, plus both fresh cabbage and sauerkraut. If you’re a real hunter, the stew meat in Bigos is whatever you’ve hunted. If your “hunting” is done at the meat counter, then buy what you’re in the mood for or what’s on sale. Venison, pork, beef, lamb…they’re all good in Bigos. This can be a clean-out-your-freezer type of meal.
Cooking the fresh cabbage and sauerkraut long and slow gives the stew its thick, rich texture. However, it also means that the cabbage and sauerkraut won’t deliver a strong one-two punch of probiotics and organosulfur compounds. They’re better at this when eaten raw or lightly cooked. But, man, does Hunter’s Stew taste good, and that’s worth something (plus, keep in mind that Bigos is good with additional fresh sauerkraut on the side.)
As mentioned before, Hunter’s Stew has a lot of variations, so the word “recipe” is used loosely here You can add a little more or less of anything in the ingredient list and the stew will still be delicious. Some versions also add spices like caraway, paprika, allspice and juniper berries. Feel free to add a teaspoon of one, or several, of these seasonings to the pot.
Servings: 6 to 8
Time in the Kitchen: 35 minutes, plus 2 to 4 hours to simmer
A small handful dried mushrooms (porcini are most common for this recipe)
2 strips bacon, diced
1 ½ pounds (680 g) stew meat (venison, lamb, beef or pork), cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper
In a small bowl, cover dried mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water. Set aside, giving the mushrooms time to rehydrate while you prepare the rest of the stew. When the mushrooms are soft, pour the soaking liquid through a fine mesh strainer to catch any grit. Save the strained liquid; finely chop the mushrooms. Set aside.
Add the bacon to a large stew pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pot. Set the bacon aside.
Add the stew meat in batches–don’t crowd the pot–browning the meat on all sides in the bacon fat. Transfer each batch to a plate when done.
Lower the heat and add the onion, cook 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the wine. Raise the heat to high and bring the wine to a boil while scraping up the browned bits of meat on the bottom of the pot with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Return the stew meat and its juices to the pot, plus the kielbasa, sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, prunes, mushrooms with their liquid, and bay leaf. Mix well, adding a few grinds of salt and pepper and any other spices you want to add.
Cover the pot with a lid slightly ajar. Turn the heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 hours until the stew meat is tender. Or, put the stew in a slow cooker set on low, cooking about 4 hours until the meat is tender. For both methods, stir the stew a few times whiles it cooks.