Polish Bigos Stew

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Bigos is one of the national dishes of Poland. It’s a hearty stew often studded with lots of wild game, served in blankets of sauerkraut, cabbage, shredded apple and onions. Usually it will have some sausage tossed in, too.

Let me start by acknowledging that there are as many recipes for bigos as there are cooks. It’s one of those dishes. Sorry in advance if my bigos recipe is not like yours. It’s still damned good. Incidentally, it’s pronounced something like BEG-oh-ss.

A bowl of Polish bigos stew
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

As a hunter’s stew, bigos will often be home to whatever meats you have handy. I focus on turkey in this rendition only because that’s what I had at the time. But the sky’s the limit, with the only limitation being that it needs to be a meat that can be cooked long and slow: Venison shoulder or shanks, pork (wild or farmed), pheasant or chicken legs, whole quail or grouse, bear, you name it.

Most cultures have similar stews. Kentucky burgoo springs to mind, as does Cajun or Creole gumbo or Ukrainian borscht.

Broadly speaking, there are two main kinds of bigos: one that relies heavily on tomatoes, and one that relies more strongly on dried fruit. Mine splits the difference and has a touch of tomato, and some dried plums.

Every bigos recipe has cabbage and sauerkraut, as well as lots and lots of onions.

Closeup of a bowl of Polish bigos stew
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Most versions also balance fresh meats with smoked ones, very similar to the Brazilian and Portuguese stew called feijoada. Mine uses a ham hock or smoked turkey wing, as well as smoked kielbasa. I have a great recipe for homemade kielbasa here, if you want to make your own, and if you are a duck hunter, I have a recipe for Polish duck sausages I like a lot.

If you happen to have juniper berries, they are great in this stew. I gather my own in the Sierra Nevada, but you also can buy juniper berries online.

Serve your stew with rye bread, pumpernickel or potatoes. If you want to get really Polish, serve Polish fermented mushrooms and some bison grass vodka on the side. I’ve actually seen it for sale in better liquor stores here in the U.S.

Bigos keeps well in the fridge, more than a week in my experience, and is better after reheating.

A bowl of Polish bigos stew
5 from 12 votes

Polish Bigos Stew

Needless to say this stew can be made with anything, and it will be better the second and third day after you make it.
Course: lunch, Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Polish
Servings: 8
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 5 pounds Wings, drumsticks, and thighs from a turkey
  • ¼ cup duck fat lard, or butter
  • Salt
  • 2 or 4 large onions, sliced
  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms, rehydrated in 2 cups boiling water
  • A smoked turkey wing or ham hock
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped lovage (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 12 juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 cups sauerkraut
  • 1 apple, peeled and coarsely grated
  • A dozen prunes, chopped in half (optional)
  • 1 pound smoked kielbasa, sliced into disks
  • Lots of freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

  • Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, pour the boiling water over them, cover and set aside.
  • Brown the turkey in the duck fat or lard over medium-high heat. Do this in batches and take your time. Salt them as they cook. Set the turkey aside in a bowl when each piece has been browned. When all the turkey has been browned, add the onions and toss to coat in the fat. Add more fat, if need be. Cook the onions over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Salt them as they cook.
  • Chop the rehydrated mushrooms and reserve the soaking water. Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook for a minute or two. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  • Add the browned turkey pieces, the smoked turkey wings or ham hock, lovage (if using), marjoram, juniper berries and bay leaves. Mix the tomato paste with the mushroom soaking water and add it to the pot. Add about 2 more quarts of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 90 minutes.
  • Add the cabbage, sauerkraut, and grated apple, and keep cooking the stew until the turkey is tender, about another hour or so. Remove the meat and separate it from the bones, then return the meat to the pot.
  • Add the prunes, kielbasa, and black pepper, then cook another 10 minutes. Serve with bread.

Notes

NOTE: Since smoked kielbasa is already cooked, it doesn't need to cook very long. 

Nutrition

Calories: 688kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 56g | Fat: 39g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 213mg | Sodium: 917mg | Potassium: 1206mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 177IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 100mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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14 Comments

  1. I made this with a roadkill turkey! It was perfect. I had all of the ingredients in the house. Elk polish sausage along with homemade sauerkraut made it come together nicely. This recipe will definitely feed 8 to 10 people and I’m looking forward to sharing it with friends.

  2. Another amazing recipe. I made this with cougar stew meat, homemade bacon and bear sausage. We all loved it!

  3. Amazing stew! At first I couldn’t imagine the combination of flavors in the list of ingredients and feared it might be sweet, but the more I thought about it, the more it all seemed to make sense. Outstanding! I did a little more research on Bigos – it seems like a great way recipe to have on hand when it’s time to “clean out the fridge” and end up with a fabulous dish. I had some porcini powder (leftover from Mushroom Ravioli the night before) so I tossed that in with the chopped mushrooms.

    Something I noticed about the recipe that “concerned me” is Hank’s lack of a fiery ingredient. But it IS a Polish dish, after all. Still, I had fire standing at the ready and we didn’t touch it. The flavors dance in the mouth, individually and collectively. I think I’ll have some for breakfast!

  4. Really liked this. Had left over smoked turkey from Thanksgiving. Took a chance and cooked the onions/soaked the shrooms then threw it all in a crockpot on low for about 4 hours. Yum!

  5. This was awesome! Our butcher sold my mom 30lbs of Turkey wings for $10 and although it was a great deal- what the hell do you do with 30lbs of Turkey wings??

    Enter Bigos 🙂 I used a spicy kielbasa and some leftover wine I needed to use up. Also, a random persimmon I had in the fruit drawer… It turned out great. Even my vegetable-hating husband liked it. Thanks, Hank!

  6. Magnifica ricetta Hank. Devo porovarla presto. In Milan they have a similar stew CASSOEULA with pork, cabbage, sausages. Io sono sicuro Hank potrebbe migliorare questa specialita, come le salsicce mazzafegati SALATI. Tanti complimenti,Grazie mille,buona fortuna,sei il piu unico.

  7. Very good bigos recipe. Glad you mentioned dried wild mushrooms as they are quite essential. I grew up eating bigos and yes it is one of these recipes that every household has a different spin on it. Now, I have never had bigos with turkey, that is quite different. Usually I had variety of venison, pork, beef, sausages, etc. . Also some people add red wine.
    Last week I made bigos with red cabbage, both sweet and fermented (sauerkraut) adding red deer, bison and wild boar meats. Forgot mushrooms.
    Thank you Hank.

  8. Made this with snow goose as the primary ingredient. When I posted it on facebook a friend commented at the photo (quote slightly altered so as to avoid offense) “As a 100% [person of Polish descent], I’m impressed.” He also noted he adds a bottle of beer.

    Considering I used a usually-less-desired game meat, my family and I gobbled it up. It was very good.

  9. Quick question. First this recipe is awesome so I plan on making it. Can this stew be frozen? Thank you so much. Sylvia Mashaw

    1. Sylvia: Yes, it can be frozen well. Nothing in here that would go off, except for any sour cream you want to add. That goes in at the end.

  10. Wow! What fabulous ingredients! A traditional cassoulet came to mind, but this has much much more going for it. Thanks!

  11. Excellent recipe, and excellent disclaimer about bigos! Wars have started and families split over who’s bigos is better!!!!