Wand’s Italian ‘Bigos’ Recipe

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Wild Honey and Rye Modern Polish RecipesMy sister, Wanda, lives in Italy and finds it quite hard to source any Polish ingredients. What I love about her cooking is the way that she has learnt to adapt the Polish recipes of our childhood to suit her terroir. This is her version of bigos, Poland’s national dish, but she lightens it up by using pork loin, tenderloin or ribs, a little pancetta and plenty of fresh cabbage and tomatoes, making it a lovely dish to eat during the summer months. You could even use turkey fillet. Wanda reminds me of the Italian–Polish Queen Bona Sforza, who married King Sigismund I of Poland in the early 16th century. She missed the cooking of her homeland and decided to bring her Italian cooks to Poland. They planted huge vegetable gardens at Wawel Castle and expanded the use of Italian vegetables within Polish cooking, importing items such as tomatoes and olive oil. My sister doesn’t have a royal team of cooks, but she is resourceful nevertheless, and her food is always delicious.

  • Yield: 8 Servings


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 white onions, finely chopped
  • 3½ oz (100 g) pancetta, or Polish bacon, boczek, or Polish sausage, kabanos, finely sliced
  • 1 lb (450 g) pork loin or tenderloin, or meaty pork ribs, or turkey fillet, chopped into 1 cm/½ in cubes
  • 14 oz 3 cups (400 g) sauerkraut, preferably organic, drained and rinsed
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1¼ pints 3 cups (750 ml) homemade or good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
  • 14 oz (400 g) (5 large) ripe plum or other seasonal tomatoes
  • 1 pointed (sweetheart, hispi) cabbage or ½ fresh white cabbage
  • 1 red apple
  • 5½ oz (150 g) mushrooms, chopped
How to Make It
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron pan over a low heat. Add the onions and pancetta, and cook for 10 minutes until the onions soften (don’t let them burn).
  2. Turn up the heat under the pan and add the pork or turkey to brown it all over. This will take 5–6 minutes and the pork and onions will start to turn golden brown and sticky.
  3. On a chopping board, chop the sauerkraut (which tends to be a bit long and stringy) and then add it to the pan of onions and pork. Season with salt and pepper, then add the bay leaf. Pour over 250 ml/9 fl oz/1 cup of the stock. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and place in the oven for 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, put the tomatoes into a large bowl and cover them with freshly boiled water. After about 30 seconds, drain and cover them with cold water. Drain again; it should now be easy to peel off the skins. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, then chop the flesh into small cubes. Set to one side. Core and finely chop the cabbage, removing any tough outer leaves. Peel the apple and grate it.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and add a layer of tomatoes and then the mushrooms, apple and cabbage. Season with salt and pepper and pour over another 250 ml/9 fl oz/1 cup of the stock.
  6. Cover the pan and put it back into the oven for 30 minutes.
  7. Stir and check the liquid – it should not be too dry, so you may need to add a little more stock. Put the pan back into the oven for a further 1 hour. The bigos will be ready to eat after this time, but will taste better if left to cool completely, then reheated the next day over a medium heat.

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