Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Revisiting Recipes from 17th Century Part 2. Sweet and Sour Journey to Baroque Poland – Braised Lamb with Capers and Raisins. Topinambour.

Hello, let’s start today with discovering Old Polish cuisine, as announced in my previous long post. You know what I was doing last Saturday and Sunday?  I spent entire Saturday chopping, peeling, slicing, dicing, cooking and trying to understand how to deal with ancient recipes from the 17th century written in archaic Polish language. I cooked a few dishes. I discovered new food compositions and I will share those recipes with you in upcoming posts, one by one. Have a look at the teaser below:

When I finished my cooking, it was already dark. Because I photograph my meals only using day light, I got up early on Sunday, did the session and shot the pictures in bizarre positions which made my back hurt like hell. 

Below is the reprint of the first Polish cookbook by Stanisław Czerniecki.  It is not an easy “cookbook”. It does not provide for any measurements or proportions so, really, you have to rely on your own imagination, taste and some historical knowledge which fortunately is presented in an interesting and very well written introduction of professor Jarosław Dumanowski. The book, published recently within a series called “Monumenta Poloniae Culinaria”  - is an elegant and very nicely published work of 240 pages done by the Wilanów Museum in Warsaw, the Nicolas Copernicus University in Toruń and Lubomirski Foundation. There are 333 recipes, which are short, even extremely brief (“take an animal, cut it into smaller parts, cook it, and in the middle of cooking add this and that”). Fortunately the book contains a glossary of old Polish culinary terms and quite a lot of reproductions of old paintings and pictures which somehow guide you.

Remember that the recipes presented below reflect my personal attempts to test ancient, Old Polish cuisine rather than an attempt to reconstruct an authentic taste and flavor which – as I wrote in my last post – probably would not be edible according to our present taste. Those cooks of the 17th century  used to add too much pepper, sugar and acids. I started with the dish which I liked most - braised lamb roll - which I decided to do at the last minute, after I discovered that I had some spare, cheap lamb’s meat, perfect for braising. The combination of acid and salty capers with sweet raisins and vinegar, enhanced by home made veal stock was tasty, in particular with an ancient root vegetable called Jerusalem artichokes fried with goose grease, rosemary and garlic. Jerusalem artichoke was very common in Poland 200 or 300 years ago but disappeared completely from Polish tables and menus. I tried it for the first time two years ago. A week ago, I was given one kilogram of these interesting roots by my friend, who writes an excellent blog about wines. The Jerusalem artichoke arrived in Old Poland, to the best of my knowledge, from America and became popular later on. Nowadays you will not buy it in the groceries. People who have family houses in the countryside say that it grows widely in many locations, it is extremely expansive as a plant, so it is not so difficult to find.

Sweet and Sour Braised Lamb Rolls with Capers and Raisins
(słodko – kwaśna rolada jagnięca z kaparami i czosnkiem)

For this type of dish you can use a cheaper and greasier type of meat like, for example, ribs - once you separate the meat from the bones, you can roll the meat and tight it with a string; such a meat in my opinion is best when braised slowly so it melts into your mouth. However, you can use other meats like poultry, goose, duck or veal. Pork would be fine as well, although don't forget that in 17th and 18th century Old Polish cuisine pork was not popular at all. My addition to the recipe has been homemade veal stock as well as wine, to enhance the taste. It was pretty delicious!

Makes 1 roll, serves 2 small portions

300 g boneless lamb's brisket (or any other type of meat which will be good for rolls – not necessarily lamb)
100 ml veal stock (optional)
200 ml stock (meat or vegetable)
Clarified butter / goose grease for frying
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
100 ml white wine
12 caper berries or 30 capers
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 handful raisins (soaked in some liquid or stock beforehand)
1 tea spoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Rub the meat (at room temperature) with salt and pepper on both sides and with garlic on the inner side. Roll the meat tightly and knot it with string. In a sticky saucepan, warm the grease (clarified butter) and fry the meat on all sides. Don't burn it. Put into a small skillet. Deglaze the pan with white wine and pour the liquid into the skillet. Pour the stock, veal stock and braise until soft (in my case, it took nearly 2 hours – the meat was of a rather poor quality - it needs long,  slow cooking). Occasionally check if the juices did not evaporate, pour some juices with a ladle over the meat. When the meat is nearly soft, add caper berries, raisins with the soaking liquid, cinnamon, vinegar. Play with you taste and adjust accordingly. At the end, add sugar, salt and pepper. My guess that this dish should be sweet and sour. Cut into slices, and serve with sauteed topinambur. If you do not have any, make a pea puree or millet (potatoes were not eaten in Poland in the 17th century).

Jerusalem Artichoke with Rosemary and Garlic
(topinambur z rozmarynem i czosnkiem)

Serves 2 small portions

250 g Jerusalem artichoke (topinambour), delicately peeled and washed and diced (if you do this in advance, keep the vegetable in water with some vinegar to prevent it from  darkening)
1 hipped tablespoon, fresh chopped rosemary
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
100 ml white wine
1-2 tablespoons goose grease or clarified butter

Heat a saucepan. Once hot, add the grease and Jerusalem artichoke (if kept in water before, dry it out with a paper towel). Sauté for one minute over a quite high heat and add garlic, sauté for one more minute being careful -  do not burn the garlic. Add wine and cook over a quite high heat until wine evaporates - approximately 5-10 minutes. In the meantime, add rosemary.  Once the Jerusalem artichoke is quite soft, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot as a side dish to your meat.

Bon appétit! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Capon and Topinambour (1). Preword to the Series Regarding Old Polish Cuisine. Hunter's Stew. Famous Bigos.

Have you ever eaten capon or topinambour? For some time, I have been reading a lot about Old Polish cuisine and I am planning to start reviewing truly old Polish recipes, some of them having origins as early as in the 17th century. I want to show you how Polish cuisine was evolving and how multicultural it was. Such recipes, quite often, are difficult to recreate because the products that were popular 200 or 300 years ago are hardly available nowadays, like capons or topinambour.

In September, I participated in an event designated to Old Polish 17th century cuisine and Polish wines, titled “Capon and figatelle – the story about Old Polish cuisine”. It took place in Winoman, a wine bar and restaurant in Kraków. The lecture and the dinner were moderated by professor Jarosław Dumanowski,  historian at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. He specializes in the history and culture of nutrition. Do you know anything about Old Polish cuisine and Polish wines? You think that maybe it was “poulet et patates” or “pork and cabbage”? Not exactly. That food had nothing to do with what Poles eat nowadays. In the old recipes, dated from the 17th and the 18th centuries, one will rather not find any pork meat or any potatoes. The most popular meat was capons – castrated cocks. Potatoes were popularized much later. The cuisine of old Poland was multicultural and influenced by Ukrainians, Jews, Lithuanians, Czechs, Prussians, Hungarians, Tatars etc. In their authentic 17th century version, those dishes would be extremely difficult to swallow (at least for us, Poles). Sensitivity of our taste buds changed over hundreds of years… At Winoman, dishes served to us were only inspired by those authentic ones from the 17th century. Otherwise they would hardly be edible.

The history of food and nutrition means, inter alia, extensive research of historical sources and books. In Poland, we had just a few titles that were discovered and reprinted recently. To say the truth, there is one and only monumental Polish cookbook dating from the period before the partitions of Poland, titled Compendium Ferculorum. The book had been printed out in Kraków, and its author, Stanisław Czerniecki, was a cook of the aristocratic Lubomirscy clan at their castle in Nowy Wiśnicz in southern Poland – I ordered it via internet and once it arrives I will write more about it.
In the baroque era, Old Polish cuisine was based on strong, explicit tastes, like, for example, pepper, saffron, sour and sweet. The flavors should had been mixed and changed – most notably, in such a way that it was hard to recognize what was served at the table (this reminds me times of communism when poor quality of food served in some restaurants made their patrons  unable to recognize what was served to them.
During September dinner we had a chance to taste four dishes inspired by baroque cuisine as well as eight different Polish wines. Forgive me moderate quality of the pictures.

Boneless carp

Carp is probably most popular fish in Poland, especially during Christmas Season and the tradition of its culture on the territories of Poland is centuries long. Some of the species, like “carp zatorski” have been registered in the European Union as regional products. However, despite the fact that the fish is commonly cultured in Poland, my impression is that the mediocrity of communism killed the variety of carp recipes. Carp served to us at Winoman was boneless, previously macerated, then fried in butter with the addition of some grated bread. The flesh of the fish was sour, thanks to the addition of vinegar. The acidity of the flesh was broken by cranberry preserves, sweet onion, raisins and sugar. I could also sense quite strong taste of pepper and cinnamon. The fish was decorated with a wedge of lime (which I squeezed on my fish fillet to make it more sour). The mixture of flavors and aromas was more similar to some of the Asian food than to contemporary Polish cuisine.

Aromatic sturgeon in butter

Sturgeon – one of the most popular fresh water fish – was served with sweet onion, parsley, wine, raisins, cinnamon and muscatel.  The taste of “4 spices” dominated, but despite the fact that I am not an afficionado of cinnamon, the flavors of the fish flex were well balanced. The fish was served with a pea purée and blanched leaves of Brussels sprouts. In the old times Poland potatoes were non-edible. Instead, old fashioned vegetables like topinambour or peas were widespread.


Besides capons, goose meat was quite popular hence the population of those birds was huge. After the WWII, geese practically disappeared from the stores. (You can find out more about young oat Polish goose - “gęś owsiana” here). Półgęsek – cold-smoked goose breasts has become more and more popular again, but it is still not easy to buy in retail grocery stores; I believe that the majority of its production goes to food festivals and restaurants. We were served thin slices of “półgęsek” with cherry preserves. It was a simple and tasty starter, however the amount of slices was minuscule so I could not delight myself enough with the taste of this excellent regional Polish specialty.


The The Figatelle dish had nothing to do with Italian cooking. In Old Polish cuisine, pork meat was very rare, and meat balls made from the mixture of veal and capon meat with the addition of buffalo grease, pepper, nutmeg, raisins and eggs were common. In the old times they were served as a side dish to the main courses.

At the end, Professor Dumanowski told us a few lines about the most popular meat in Old (three hundred years ago) Poland which was capon. Today, you will not find this meat neither in the restaurant nor in the stores. I had capon meat a few times in my life, but that  was in France as my mother-in-law used to bake it. More about capons in the future posts.

Bigos (contemporary hunters stew)

Bigos is a traditional stew typical for Polish and Lithuanian cuisines. Many consider it to be the Poland's national dish No.1. Indeed, bigos has an extremely long tradition in Poland. Some say that bigos can be traced back to the middle ages. It is said that bigos was introduced in Poland by Jagiełło, a Lithuanian prince who became the king of Poland in the 14th century and established long lasting union between two states. To make a long story short, nowadays bigos consists of a long-braised mixture of various types of meats and sauerkraut. However two or three hundred years ago cabbage was even not added to it ! Instead, a lot of lime juice, wine and vinegar were put into the dish. When Poland gradually became more and more impoverished in the 18th Century, lime and expensive spices usage was greatly reduced and, to keep sour taste of bigos, people started to add cheap pickled (fermented with salt) cabbage, today internationally known as sauerkraut. I will cook cabbage-free bigos in a future recipe (when I receive my old Poland cookbook). Today, I propose my mum's version (my dad’s version is slightly different), which is very tasty. I love to eat it in the winter time.
In the old times, bigos was stored in every household’s pantries in big stone or clay pots, ready to be served to unexpected guests or as a provision for long trips. If anyone asks me about the most traditional and yet most pauperized Polish dish during the communism – the answer is instant: bigos. As almost everything in the Polish cooking after the war, this old and rich dish was brutally simplified due to, among others, food shortcomings caused by inefficient economy which instead of free market – was politically driven. I remember it from my school years as a few shredded leaves of poor quality cabbage swimming in an awful dirty sour sauce-like liquid. This had nothing to do with real bigos, which needs many ingredients and the art of patient long and repeatable cooking.  Even today, in many cheap eateries or “milk bars” you can order an ersatz of bigos, meaning cooked cabbage with a bit of sausage added.
There exist many variations of this flagship of the Polish cuisine and the one that I present in my book is what I was taught by my mom. Remember: there is no standard recipe for bigos. It’s just like with paella in Spain or with bouillabaisse in southern France. Recipes vary from region to region and from family to family being the very nucleus of people’s culinary pride and honor. There are, however, certain rules and the set of basic ingredients: hours long, slow cooking, different types of meat and cold cuts, an addition of dried smoked plums (prunes), dried forest mushrooms and spices. The base is always sauerkraut, sometimes some sweet cabbage added is added, various cuts of meats, hams and sausages, tomato paste, honey, sour apples, bay leaves, allspice, cloves, mustard and red wine. In my family bigos is cooked traditionally between Christmas and New Year's when various meats leftovers are available, so it is ready for Sylwester – the New Year’s Eve party and it often crowns it when served at early morning hours to refresh exhausted party guests. And last but not least, Polish style: it tastes great with frozen vodka.

Few tips: bigos must have a dense solid consistence. It should be rich with meat. It is said that the best proportions are: half meat and half cabbage, although this depends on your own preferred taste. It is important that almost all juices slowly evaporate while cooking. When served, you should not have any liquid left on the plate. My father cooks bigos for a few days. Several hours of braising on a very low burner (frequently stirring so the mixture would not stick to the bottom of the pot) and then onto the balcony where it freezes overnight. The following day this procedure repeats. And then again, for a day or two until bigos is fully macerated and all flavors combine into one unique blend. And half a bottle of red wine goes into the pot for the final twenty minutes of warming the dish up before serving.
I do not add tomato concentrate. Some recipes advise to do so, which, in my opinion, is incorrect. You can add types of meat other than those indicated in the recipe like greasy duck, goose, venison, ham and sausages. The wider variety of meats - the better. Bigos should be quite spicy in taste, a bit sour, with an explicit wine aftertaste. The meat should be completely soft, nearly melted like in French rilettes. You can replace prunes with a couple of spoons of plums preserves (powidła). You can make it fifty-fifty of sauerkraut and white cabbage. In such a case, white cabbage should be finely chopped and separately precooked until half-soft.
And bigos is one of those dishes that taste better with the flow of time. It tastes best after 3 days of cooking and refrigerating. Considering long cooking time and plethora of ingredients, it is not worth preparing for 4 people only. Cook the big quantity. Bigos freezes easily and when thawed - – it will still be delicious or even better !

My Mum's Polish Hunter's Stew (Bigos)

Cooking time – 3 days (3 x 1-1,5 hour) 

Serves 10

1.5 kg sour cabbage (you may use 50/50 sour and regular white cabbage, however I prefer bigos made only with sour cabbage)
400 g raw, smoked bacon cut in strips 3 cm long
650 g pork shoulder, cut in cubes of 1.5 cm
650 g beef, for example shank (prega wolowa – do gotowania), cut in cubes 1.5 cm
2 onions, peeled and washed, finely chopped
120 g dried, smoked plums, without seeds and cut into halves
50 g dried ceps
30 g sultan raisins
3 bay leaves
8 grains allspice
8 grains juniper berries
10 grains black pepper
3-4 cloves
500 ml meat stock
500 ml dry red wine
4 tablespoons goose grease
2 tablespoons flour

Prepare the cabbage: Chop it finely. Squeeze it in hands and remove any excess of sour juice saving it for later adding it to the dish if necessary. Place the cabbage in a large saucepan, add onions and spices: bay leaves, cloves, juniper, allspice and pepper. Pour half of bullion into the cabbage and onions and mix everything.
Cook for hour and a half, until cabbage and onions are soft, on a small flame and stir often, so the cabbage does not stick to the bottom. Put aside.

Prepare the meat: In the meantime, prepare the meat. Put the pork and veal in two separate bowls. Sprinkle them with a bit of flour and mix. Heat two saucepans or frying pans and melt 2 tablespoons of goose grease in each pan. When the grease is hot, put pork and beef into the pans, sauteé them and cook under the cover over a medium flame until soft for around one hour. If necessary, add some beef or veal stock. Stir frequently. In a hot frying pan, cook the bacon until the grease is fully released. When the bacon and meats are done, place them in the saucepan with cabbage and mix well. Simmer for another hour, stirring often. Remove from the heat, let it cool down completely and put overnight into the fridge or outdoor.

Finish your bigos: On the next day, put mushrooms into 500 ml of water and let them soak overnight. Soak  raisins in 100 ml of water. On the next day, cook mushrooms for 10 minutes. Remove bigos from the cold place. Strain the mushrooms and raisins, reserve the bullion. Cut mushrooms into strips (0.5 cm wide) and add them to bigos. Add raisins and plums, mushroom stock, mix well and cook over a small flame for another hour and a half. Mix often.
When all juices evaporate, add wine and let it cook until wine evaporates completely. Mix often, do not let bigos burn ! Salt and pepper to taste, if too sour add some honey. You can serve it immediately, however it tastes best after at least one more night in the cold place and one more hour of cooking. Serve with good organic bread. Don’t forget about a shot of vodka !

Bon appétit !

And yet something for those who know all meanders of our beautiful Polish language. My father has been cooking for decades but from time to time he also writes funny culinary poems and plans to publish them soon. The hero of one of his pieces is bigos, this icon of our national cuisine. It comes in a form of a classic sonnet:

Sonet bigośny

            Stanąłem dziś przy beczce kiszonej kapusty
            Świątecznej kaczuszki resztek mam ci w domu fest
            Do tego szyneczka, boczuś, co tam jeszcze jest
            Grzybki, śliwki, jałowiec i reszta rozpusty

            Bigos warzę raz w roku, on wszak mrozu łaknie
            Na ogień, na balkon, na ogień, na balkon - tak !
            Gdy zaniedbasz tę rutynę, wyjdzie byle jak
            Niby będzie miał wszystko – lecz mu duszy zbraknie

            Maceruj go, maceruj, aż sczeźnie do imentu
            Przegryzaj go, przegryzaj, kapusty zakłóć woń
            Wszystko to zapisuj, aż braknie atramentu

            A gdy dojdzie już on, winem podchmiel go wreszcie
            Winem się uszlachetni i będzie mógł pójść w świat
            Bigosować ! Naród niech sławi się ! Nareszcie !

Copyright by Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, 2011

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Love to Eat Pickles, don't You?

Tonight something quick and easy - dill pickle (gherkins) hearty soup. You can buy abroad sour cucumbers (gherkins) in food stores carrying Polish, Russian or Eastern European Jewish food. More information on how to make sour cucumbers at home will come in the season, meaning in the summer time, which hopefully will come here only in 6 months. Except for the sour cabbage (sauerkraut), Polish dill pickles (gherkins / sour cucumbers) are the most common vegetables – pickled, or rather fermented in brine (water plus salt). Polish dill pickles (gherkins) are a component of Polish cooking traditions as the cornichon is part of the French ones, although the comparison of gherkins to cornichons is not appropriate as those last ones are just pickled in vinegar and have a different taste.

This sort of pickles developed not only in Poland but in northern Europe in general. Our Polish dill pickles, which I love to eat, are pickled using the process of natural fermentation in brine which makes them sour. It depends on the natural Lactobacillus bacteria that cover the skin of growing cucumbers. There is no vinegar used for this type of pickling. Moreover, only a special type of pickling cucumbers, which you can get easily in Poland, although only during summertime, as they are seasonal, and with difficulties in France, may be used for the pickling. As opposed to long and waxed eating cucumbers, pickling cucumbers are shorter and thicker. Their shape is not as regular and they have a bumpy skin with tiny white- or black-dotted spines.

In winter time one can buy dill pickles (gherkins) either in food stores or on food markets. Here in Kraków I buy them on food markets only, from sellers I usually trust so I can be quite sure that there is no vinegar in them and that the acid taste comes exclusively from natural pickling. When I lived in Paris I used to buy dill pickles either in stores carrying Polish food (those gherkins were quite tasty) or in the one of the most expensive food stores in Paris – La Grande Epicerie de Paris – they used to sell them there in jars and they simply were - as French people say – dégueulasses, of a very poor quality. A good dill pickle should be firm and crunchy. The taste may be more or less of garlic.

These cucumbers are still one of the most popular accompaniments in the Polish cooking. They are used for sandwiches, salads, as an accompaniment to dumplings and meat dishes, as well as in soups. Polish people use gherkins for salads (for example: potato salad, vegetable salad, accompaniment to meat and pierogi dishes, pâtés, or in soups).

Dill pickle (gherkin) soup is one of the most popular daily homemade soups. I suppose there exists as many recipes as the number of households. Some will use beef stock, others chickens stock or chicken hearts and stomach stock, some will serve the cucumber soup with rice (which I do not like), some with carrots, dill, chives etc. When I cook the soup at home, usually I add potatoes and a lot of dill. Sometimes, I add a bit of carrots and chives, like today. You can omit bacon and meat stock and cook a vegetarian version of course.

Polish Sour Cucumber Soup

Serves 4

1 liter vegetable / chicken stock
1 small carrot, peeled and washed, shredded
600 g firm dill pickles (gherkins), peeled and cut into small dice
50 g bacon cut into small dice
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into 1 cm dice
A few tablespoons good heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Salt and pepper

In a saucepan, melt butter, add cucumbers and fry for about 5 minutes. In the meantime grill the bacon in a non stick frying pan until crispy. Keep aside.
In a large sauce pan, boil the stock and add potatoes. After 5 minutes add shredded carrot and cook everything under the cover for 10 minutes. Add cucumbers and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are really soft. Taste the soup and add salt (if necessary – cucumbers are salty) and pepper. The soup should be sour – if it is not, you can add some lemon juice. In a separate container, use a bit of the soup to mix with the cream then pour the mixture into the soup. Serve on plates and decorate with bacon and chives.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Breaded Button Mushrooms Stuffed with Sheep’s Cheese

Dear all, Happy New Year and all the best to you. I was busy with work after the New Year's, then our daughter got chickenpox and now I am imprisoned as my husband went to Paris, some of my friends have the flu, and others who did not have chickenpox in their childhood are afraid of the disease, so I am stuck here at home.

Do you have any favorite Carnival food ? When I was younger, meaning when I did not have my own family, I spent a lot of time in January going to Carnival parties or dinners. Bigos (hunters' stew) was a traditional must in this part of year. I am not a bigos master, but my mother makes a very good one and usually I follow her recipe. It will come soon.  Coming back to the parties, nowadays I do not go to them very often not because I do not like them but simply because I have other things to do. 

I discovered those breaded button mushrooms, which I present today, in one of the restaurants in Kraków, serving Polish food. I nearly would always order them as a starter, usually the serving was small, good enough just for one bite. One day I asked the cook for the recipe (it means, whether the button mushrooms are precooked, deep fried – the rest is very simple etc) but  he did not want to tell me. So, I worked out my own version, and I found out that they taste best when deep fried. If you do this in a frying pan, the risk is that the cheese will melt to the frying pan. I used our sheep cheese from Tatra mountains (meaning, bryndza, which I presented to you here. But feel free to use any other cheese. Everybody likes them in particular when served with sauce tartar and if you are tired of posh finger food, try them.

Breaded Stuffed Button Mushrooms

Serves 4


8 button mushrooms, average size
appx. 100 g bread crumbs
2 eggs
100 g salty sheep’s cheese (for example, bryndza - or other salty cheese, for example feta)
1 l vegetable oil for deep frying
160 ml home mande sauce tartare (recipe here)

Preepare button mushrooms: wash them and dry with a paper towel. Remove delicately skin from hats.
Cut stems and drill caps deep enough to put the cheese.

Prepare stuffing: in a small bowl or in a mortar, mash cheese and mix it with a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Fill the button mushrooms with the stuffing. Remember that the stuffing cannot overhang the level of the cap. It is better when the filling is more solid than liquid.

Bread your stuffed mushrooms: beat eggs well on a plate. Pour the bread crumbs onto a separate plate.
Roll the each mushroom twice - firstly in the egg, and then bread them carefully, so the stuffing will not fall out.

Fry mushrooms: in a large, not very deep saucepan bring the oil to a boil. Place the mushrooms delicately.
Deep-fry them until gold for around 3-4 minutes. Remove delicately from the saucepan, and put on a paper towel to remove the excess of oil. Serve immediately accompanied by home made tartar sauce.
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