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Buon Natale, Wesołych Świąt, Merry Christmas. 

I'm writing this from Bormio in the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy. This morning I braved the cold at first light and walked halfway up the nearby snow-capped peaks. I hoped to capture the sunrise, but my camera did it no justice at all. After several hours shopping for Christmas lunch I headed up to Bagni Vecchi, the ancient thermal baths just out of town:

Today I am sharing a Polish Christmas recipe called bigos. I have been writing a series for Borough Market about food and identity, where I interview traders about the foods that are important to them. One of my interviewees, Ewa Weremij, is Polish. She told me that bigos "is a special dish for the Christmas time". You can read more about the Christmas traditions that Ewa and her family observe on the Borough Market blog.

Bigos is a stew made with pork, sausage, fresh and pickled cabbage. It is widely regarded as Poland's national dish, though it is made slightly differently from region to region. Ewa's family add mushrooms, prunes and "juniper for forest smells", ingredients typical of her region. I talked to several Polish friends and read a lot of different recipes online to come up with this recipe. My Polish colleague, Lukasz, was very complimentary and confirms that it tastes as it should. Hurrah!

Bigos is usually translated in English as 'Hunter's Stew'. This is a reference to some of the stories behind its origins. It is said that bigos was brought to Poland by Władysław II Jagiełło, a Lithuanian duke who later became King of Poland. Apparently he served the dish to his hunting guests.

Another suggestion is that the dish was created by hunters who added a different type of meat to the dish each day, reflecting the day’s catch. Ewa told me that “the real one” should be made in this way, adding a new ingredient each day over the course of a week.  

Like most Polish people I have spoken to, Ewa emphasises that bigos tastes better the longer it is cooked. Lukasz is more specific, telling me that it always tastes best the third time that it is reheated. 

I used fresh sauerkraut for this recipe. If you are unable to find this, then tinned sauerkraut is fine, but you should rinse it in cold water, otherwise you may find your stew overly vinegary. 

Serves 8, generously.  


90g dried boleta or porcini mushrooms  
50g pork fat  
500g pork shoulder, diced 
300g smoked kielbasa, cut into rounds 
1 large onion, diced 
2 tsp juniper berries, crushed 
1 tsp caraway seeds 
500g green cabbage, sliced into thin strips 
500g fresh sauerkraut or 500g (net weight) tinned sauerkraut, drained and rinsed in cold water 
150g prunes, pitted and cut in half 
3 large tomatoes, peeled and diced 
2 green apples, peeled and grated 
1 tbsp tomato paste 
2 bay leaves 
125ml Madeira 
500ml chicken stock or water, approx. 


Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, pour over 500ml hot water and leave to soak. 

Dice the pork fat into small cubes and put in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Render for 10 minutes. Turn up to the heat to medium, add the diced pork and stir, browning on all sides. Remove the pork from the pan and put to one side. Add the sausage rounds and fry for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the pan and put to one side. 

Return the saucepan to the heat, reduce the heat to low and add the diced onion. Cover and sweat for 5 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the cabbage, juniper berries and caraway seeds and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. 

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the mushrooms to the saucepan along with the soaking liquid. Add the pork, sausage, prunes, diced tomatoes, grated apples, tomato paste and bay leaves to the saucepan as well and stir to combine.  

Turn the heat up high and add the Madeira. Allow it to bubble and reduce for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and add the water or stock. Cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. 

Remove the lid and continue cooking for as long as you have time. You will need to add more water to keep it from burning, but note that when served it should be moist but without any excess liquid.

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Reader Comments (2)

This looks like something I shall try in winter. Today I lunched with your surrogate Mum who was singing your praises for the hours you spent sourcing the ingredients and the quality of the food you served for the Christmas feast in Bormeo, "which just kept coming". I wish i could have been there.Maybe we can do "yule tide" sometime and you can cook Bigos for me xx

January 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterma

I am so pleased that Jen loved my Christmas food so much. It was a pleasure to cook for the Richards because they are such an appreciative audience. And it was lovely to get back into the kitchen after being rather lazy for quite some time...

March 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterVix

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