Bigos – Polish Hunter’s Stew Recipe

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This one is for the meat eaters.

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Here in Ireland and Britain, and possibly much of the rest of the world, when people think of Polish cuisine they could be guilty of imagining a stereotypical meal of meat and cabbage. There is much more to Polish food culture than this.

cut fresh white cabbage on blue background


Bigos is a dish that was made for these dark and cold evenings. Bigos is hearty, filling, nourishing and satisfying. Bigos is like a bowl of the hugs you get from your granny when you get in from playing in the snow.

Bigos is primarily meat and cabbage.

But don’t judge it by it’s simplicity, judge it by the heart-warming sense of comfort and fortitude that creeps through your body upon ingestion.

The perfect solution for ‘mystery meats’

cold melting snow landscape

This time each year we do a bit of a freezer purge, digging into the icy depths to see what long forgotten meals and ingredients are lurking. We do this in part to make sure we cycle through our food and to create room for the winter meats we will be getting. It’s hunting season round these parts, and while many people love to hunt, many, insanely, aren’t keen on the meat.

We are dead against hunting for sport, but even more so on wasting the lives of the animals killed. As a result, we will take the unwanted spoils of the hunt, usually for free, and make it into nutritious goodness.

So when we reach the bottom of our freezer we often (read always) find some kind of mystery, unlabelled meats entombed in the ice, like a mammoth found in a Siberian cave.

Bigos is the perfect vehicle for such an enigmatic ingredient. The slow cooking process should render even the most leathery of cuts beautifully tender. I hope.

It seems that every family in Poland has their own special recipe for Bigos, so I’m going to give a very simple version. Many recipes call for caraway and juniper, but I can’t abide either so they are not included. Feel free to add them in.

The most common meat used for Bigos is Kielbasa, a smoked sausage. I couldn’t get any locally, so I’m using a nice smoky chorizo. As for any other meat the choice is yours. I’m using some pork belly, some beef and some lamb neck. Game, chicken, pork, leftovers, etc will also work.

This is the only time I buy shop-bought sauerkraut. Kelley makes fantastic homemade sauerkraut, full of fermented microbiotic goodness. If you heat up sauerkraut you lose that goodness. I’d rather keep the good stuff for eating separately.

What the cooked sauerkraut does is create a wonderful silken texture to the dish.

Bigos – Polish Hunter’s Stew

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings 6


  • 50 g butter
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1/2 white cabbage
  • 1 jar sauerkraut
  • 100 g mushrooms
  • 200 g kielbasa or chorizo
  • 300 g pork belly
  • 600 g stewing meat or meat of your choosing
  • 500 ml strong beef stock
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 splash red wine for deglazing pan
  • salt and pepper to taste.


  • In a large stock pot melt the butter and soften the onion and garlic. Add the mushrooms to sauté.
  • Drain and rinse the sauerkraut. Shred the white cabbage.
  • Add these to the pot along with the stock and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a simmer.
  • Cut the sausage and meat into 1/2 inch/12mm chunks.
  • In a separate pan, brown the pork belly and transfer it to the pot.
  • Repeat this step for the sausage and other meats.
  • Pour a splash of red wine into the browning pan to deglaze. Use a spoon or spatula to lift any of the meat juices and coating. Transfer to the big pot.
  • Season with paprika, salt and pepper.
  • Add a little more water to the pot if necessary, but not too much. It doesn't want to completely swamp the ingredients, Bigos is typically a fairly 'dry' stew.
  • Cook on a low heat and simmer for 2 hours, or longer. I find a 4 hour simmer gives a depth of flavour.
  • Eat immediately or (better) leave to stand for at least 24 hours, reheat and enjoy.

2 hours should generally do, but many people swear by cooking for longer. The choice is yours.

You can eat it straight away, but expect to get some rolling of the eyes and mutterings from your Polish neighbours. Nearly everyone suggests leaving it to stand for at least 24 hours. Jan, my brother from a Polish mother, swears that leaving it for a full 7 days is best.

Jan is like the human embodiment of Bigos; robust, meaty, strong, hearty and tender. So I always listen to Jan. He’s also massive and knows where I live.

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