Asked what we come to think of a dish that is typically Polish the first thing which comes to our mind would almost definitely be "bigos". I do not try to translate the very name as, firstly, it is well recognized, and secondly any foreign translation, whatsoever, does not reflect the real nature of the thing. No other dish has ever gained that many descriptions in literature filled with genuine awe for its taste, aroma and delicious combination of a vegetable brought to Poland by queen Bona with various kinds of meat.
Poles have always been in favor of "bigos." It would be a traditional dish in every Polish home, to be found both in cuisine of the rich and the poor. We should however remember and stress the important difference between real "bigos" and a dish called cabbage. The main difference lies in the proportion of meat and vegetables. In "bigos" there is definitely more meat than cabbage. "Bigos" is typically Polish dish it matches our national character, we are a nation of individuals, after all. And every "bigos" although based on the same ingredients, is slightly different.
There are several rules which apply to the preparation of the dish. We are free to change proportions of the ingredients, and choose spices and herbs of our unique taste which makes "bigos" a fantastic opportunity to show off ones exceptional talents in preparing a unique, original meal. So these are the rules:
"Bigos" is made of a sweet cabbage and sauerkraut in any proportions; cabbage for our "bigos" is stewed in meat stock; we add various kinds of meat fried with onion on a high heat; the best kind of meat to be added is without any doubt game; we add tomato pure or blanched and chopped fresh tomatoes; an ingredient that gives "bigos" its characteristic aroma is dried mushroom, previously soaked in water, sliced; we might add mushroom stock to boiling cabbage; we add smoked plums, but not candied ones, and sour apples previously simmered with bits of duck or goose meat and mashed.
Here is a sample recipe for old Polish "bigos":
White cabbage - 5 kg
Sauerkraut - 3,3 kg
Bacon - 1,5 kg
Pork meat - 1,5 kg
Beef meat - 1,5 kg
Sausage - 1,5 kg
Onion - 1 kg
Dried mushroom - 0,2 kg
Dried plums - 0,3 kg
Tomato pure - 0,2 kg
Black pepper - 0,02 kg
Salt - 0,01 kg
It is the best to cook "bigos" in a huge pan. "Bigos" may be frozen so we can make a substantial quantity of the dish and store it in our deep freezer for later. A cabbage should be thoroughly and thinly sliced. We put in into the pan, pour rich stock and stew. Chop your meat thoroughly and fry with onion. Then add it part by part to your stewed cabbage. The greater variety of meats in your "bigos", the better. In a smaller pan cook dried mushroom, previously soaked in water and strained; then slice them and add to "bigos". Then cut dried, smoked plums, and add them as well. We add tomato pure, or fresh, blanched and chopped tomatoes, marjoram salt and ground pepper to taste. Taste of our dish can be enriched by addition of honey, sour apples and various herbs such as basil, estragon, savory, juniper berries, rosemary, rue and others to choose from accordingly to our culinary imagination. We add about 1 liter of good quality dry red wine. It is the best to cool, or even freeze, and then reheat "bigos" several times to make it even tastier.