Hearty Polish stew fits in with Chicago winter

January 2, 2008 10:10:21 AM PST
Few things beat a cold winter's day like a hearty bowl of stew. But ABC7's Hungry Hound is looking to Poland for inspiration today, where he says a traditional bowl of pork and cabbage is one of the most popular dishes in that country.

Usually, pork and cabbage show up in this country as a pulled pork sandwich topped with crunchy coleslaw. But in Poland, they combine those ingredients - along with red wine and tomatoes - to make a fortifying dish called bigos. We found a fantastic version of this Polish staple on the city's Northwest Side.

There are no fancy gadgets here; no high-end kitchen equipment. That's just fine with the folks at the Retro Cafe, a tiny restaurant and bar in the Belmont Central neighborhood. Because when they make bigos, they don't need much more than a knife and skillet.

"Bigos is very popular dish in Poland, it's all traditions, served in all Polish restaurants," said Matthew Gancarz, Retro Café.

Like many dishes from Poland, it begins with smoked sausage, or kielbasa, which is chopped into bite-sized pieces.

White onions are chopped up, and not surprising, so is a lean pork shoulder. To add a little more flavor, some of that pork fat is also chopped up.

All of those ingredients are sauteed in oil, and once they've cooked through, tomato sauce is added. After about 10 minutes, the sauteed pork, onions and sauce are removed from the heat, and added to a healthy dose of cabbage, which gives the bigos its trademark crunch. Bumping up the flavors even more, a little Georgian red table wine is poured in. The mixture is transferred to a stainless container, covered with foil, then baked in the oven for about an hour. The result? A rich, porky, complex dish, served with peasant bread and a ramekin of rendered fat studded with bits of pork for spreading. It may come from Poland, but it's right at home in the middle of a Chicago winter.

"Hearty and it's delicious," Gancarz said.

There are plenty of options for bigos in the Belmont Central area. Another good bet is on the Southwest Side, at Szalas, near Archer and Cicero. Plus, northwest Indiana, at places like the Cavalier Inn in Hammond.

Retro Café
3246 N. Central Ave.

Also mentioned:

5214 S. Archer Ave.

Cavalier Inn
735 Gostlin St., Hammond, IN