Lately I’ve alluded to my stockpile of homemade charcuterie including bacon, pork belly lardo, wild game sausages, and duck confit. It was all part of a larger plan for the Charcutepalooza finale. My Pole-ophile partner proposed I make bigos, the national dish of Poland. This “hunter’s stew” of meat, sauerkraut, and cabbage was traditionally made with wild game, but these days it’s almost always made with pork. I wanted to change that.
Pierogies seemed like a natural accompaniment, but filled with what? I dreamed up a French-Polish fusion of shredded duck confit, caramelized onions, and mashed potatoes. Like traditional pierogies, but better.
Thank God my best friend was planning to visit me later that month. She was actually excited to help out. We’re former roommates with a history of taking on crazy cooking projects. On weeknights during college we often made “Japanese extravaganza” with homemade sushi, miso soup, and sweet potato tempura. Our peers thought we were weird. Rachel and I also traveled to Eastern Europe together, including a memorable stop in Poland, so it was fitting that she would help with the dinner. The date was set for Saturday, November 19.
That night we cooked for hours. We maintained our strength with snacks of beer, Polish vodka, and pork belly lardo. I also busted out some symbolic pork rillettes made from the bits of meat accumulated from all of these projects and stored in the freezer all year.
I culled over bigos recipes for weeks. Recipes that included tomato had no appeal. It didn’t seem like something a Polish hunter would eat. But I was charmed by this story in the New York Times about the author Louis Begley and his bigos recipe. I made some modifications to use my charcuterie stockpile, including wild game sausage to make it all the more hunter-y.
Bigos or “Hunter’s Stew”
- 2 large sweet onions, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces homemade bacon, cut into 1/2-inch squares
- 1 pound sauerkraut, preferably fresh
- 2 pounds cabbage, thinly sliced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 15 black peppercorns
- 1 pound homemade kabanosy
- 1 apple, cored and sliced
- 2 cups homemade duck stock
- 2 pounds homemade venison & wild boar kielbasa, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup vodka.
1. In a bowl, mix onions with salt and set aside. In a large pot, cook over medium heat until it is crisp and most of the fat has rendered. Add onions and sauté over medium heat about 10 minutes. Add cabbage and sauté for about 5 minutes until some of the water has cooked out.
2. Add sauerkraut, potatoes, garlic, peppercorns, kabanosy, and apples to the onions and cabbage. Add enough wine and stock to just cover and mix well. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
3. Add kielbasa, and cook over low heat for 1 hour before serving.
4. Fifteen minutes before serving, pour vodka over the bigos. Spoon into bowls or onto a plate and serve with a garnish of chopped dill.
Yield: 8 generous servings.
We worked on the pierogies while the bigos bubbled away for about 3 hours. I loved the idea of using sour cream in the dough and settled on this dough recipe. I prepared and assembled caramelized onions and mashed potatoes in advance.
Duck Confit Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Mashed Potatoes:
Dough by Barbara Rolek from About.com
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour to dust the work surface
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 egg
- 1 cup water
- Combine flour, salt, sour cream, egg and water in a large bowl. Mix until dough comes together. If dough is dry, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time, until it’s moist and springy. If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it’s smooth.
- On a floured work surface, knead dough for 3 or 4 minutes until elastic. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- 2 cups prepared duck confit, bones removed and shredded
- 2 cups mashed potatoes
- 1 cup caramelized onions, prepared in advance, flavored with black pepper and thyme
1. Roll out the dough about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut circles about 4-inches in diameter.
2. Holding a dough circle like a taco, layer about 1 teaspoon of potatoes, 1 teaspoon of duck confit, and 1/2 a teaspoon of caramelized onions. Encase the filling in the dough by sealing the edges. Set aside on a plate lined with parchment paper.
Making rustic pierogies is much easier than making delicate raviolis, but I won’t minimize the work involved. It’s labor intensive! I made about 50 during that weekend and learned something extremely important: place the pierogies on parchment paper because the dough is super sticky. Otherwise they’ll stick to the plate, resulting in oyster-shaped pierogies after they’re cooked. Yes, oysters. You don’t want that to happen after all that hard work.
Boiling the pierogies wouldn’t suffice for this occasion, so we fried them. In the duck fat leftover from the confit. We finally sat down to eat seven hours after we started cooking. The pierogies were absolutely everything I dreamed they would be, and I had been dreaming about them for about a month at that point. The bigos was sweet, sour, and smokey. I think any Polish hunter would have approved.
We made so much food that we enjoyed a second installment of the meal with Dustin’s parents the following weekend. Louis Begley spoke the truth— the flavor of the bigos improved after a few days in the fridge. The sweet and sour qualities of the apple and sauerkraut mellowed while the smokey richness of the meat deepened in flavor. The pierogies froze beautifully
Charcutepalooza taught me so much about food while connecting me with many kindred spirits here in Austin or via Twitter. I’m more than a little sad that it’s ending, but I loved sharing the experience with friends and family over the past few weeks. I couldn’t have done it without their help and support! A special thanks to Rachel for taking control of the pierogies (she has always been more talented with dough than me), and to Dustin for his unwavering support, meat smoking skillz, and eating all the bigos.