I hope you enjoyed my last Project Food Blog post. Thank you so much for your support in helping me make it on to round two. This week, our challenge was a fun one – to choose a classic dish from a foreign cuisine that takes us outside our comfort zone.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth about what I wanted to make, but I had a few criteria in mind. First, I wanted to make something that highlighted my cooking philosophy. In other words, I wanted to use traditional techniques and quality ingredients. I also wanted to make the dish 100% from scratch, or as close as I could get without doing any animal rearing or butchering on my own.
And most importantly, I wanted to pick a dish that truly scared me. Basically my goal is to make sure in every challenge I’m pushing myself to learn something new so even if I don’t win I’ll emerge a better cook and blogger.
I eventually selected Kielbasa w Polskim Sosie or translated in English, Kielbasa in Polish Sauce.
I picked this dish for a couple reasons. First, I don’t feel like Polish cuisine gets a lot of exposure in the United States so I knew I, and perhaps my readers as well, had a lot to learn. Second, this dish would require me to make my sausages from scratch – something I’d wanted to attempt for a long time.
To get started, my first stop was the Chicago Public Library to do some research on Polish cuisine and Kielbasa in particular. One of the guidelines of the challenge is that we keep our dish as authentic as possible so I knew a little desk research would help ground me. It’s interesting because I guess in addition to enjoying cooking with traditional techniques I like using traditional techniques when doing research as well, with the library, not the internet, being my preferred source. I love sitting among the walls of books and leafing through hardcover after hardcover, their musty pages practically smelling of knowledge.
Thankfully, because Chicago has a large Polish population there were a lot of great books to choose from, including some cookbooks that are popular in Poland and have since been translated into English. The trip turned out to be very educational and I learned a lot.
Kielbasa is actually a generic Polish word for sausage so while most of the Kielbasa we see in the United States has a similar taste profile and texture, it is traditionally made from an almost endless variety of ingredients.
It also has a rich history. According to the book Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the Table, Old Polish cuisine was famous for its Kielbasas. They were so important to Polish cuisine that in the 17th century a good cook in a nobelman’s house had to show his skill by making kielbasas in a dozen different ways, while an aristocratic cook had to know 24 different ways!
Clearly I don’t meet the qualifications to work in either household, but I do think I’ve gotten a little closer to truly understanding Kielbasa. For my dish, I decided to make all-pork fresh kielbasa. I chose this variety because in rural Poland, home sausage-making is very much still alive and even people who are not farmers for a living often keep a hog or two, so this variety seemed like a simple one they might make.
To make it, I ground together pork shoulder, fat back, and garlic cloves using the meat grinding attachment on my mixer. I then seasoned with salt and sugar and combined with a little water. The entire mixture rests over night to give the flavors a chance to meld and allow the water to be absorbed.
In the morning, I made the sausages by filling hog casings with the mixture, twisting them off, and allowing them to rest, again, before they are ready to cook. Stuffing the sausages was the trickiest part of the recipe for me as the hog casings were a little bit of a pain to work with. I was convinced I’d never be able to slide them over my sausage stuffing attachment. I thought I’d end up having to cop out and make meatballs instead, but with a little elbow grease, a little faith, and a lot of patience, it finally worked! And I was able to fill them! I had real sausage.
After doing a little happy dance that something that easily could have been a tremendous flop was actually a success, I decided to cook my sausage with a Polish Sauce. To find what I would consider an authentic or traditional recipe I looked at six or seven from different cookbooks, identified what the universal ingredients were, and worked from there.
The end recipe involved simmering Kielbasa and onions in equal parts light beer and water. Once the sausage is cooked through, you strain the mixture, setting the kielbasa aside. The resulting broth gets thickened with flour cooked in butter and seasoned with a little vinegar, some Maggi extract (A soy sauce-like condiment that is popular in Polish cooking. It’s not exactly like soy sauce, but has a similar salty flavor that is good in meat dishes for adding more savoriness), and a little sugar.
Finally, after two days of hard work it was time for a taste test. The flavor was worth it. The sausage itself had a nice, clean pork flavor with a light pop of garlic. It was also very moist with a nice textural contrast from the casing. The sauce also added more dimensions of flavor. It had a nice maltiness from the beer and a pop of acid from the vinegar that balanced out the richness of the sausage.
Overall I considered the project a success. The Kielbasa were definitely time consuming so I won’t make them every week, but just knowing I successfully attempted and made them gives me MUCH more confidence in the kitchen.
This post is my second entry to the Project Food Blog contest hosted by Foodbuzz.com. I hope you have enjoyed the post and will help me move onto round three! Voting for this round will open at 6:00 am PST Monday, September 27th and end at 6:00 pm PST on Thursday, September 30th. View my profile here, and then vote!
Adapted from Polish Cookery
-2 cups beer
-2 cups water
-1 Kielbasa ring (about 1 1/2 pounds), recipe below
-2 onions, sliced
-1 tablespoon butter
-1 tablespoon flour
-1/2 teaspoon Maggi extract
-2 tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
-1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon sugar, according to taste.
Add water and beer to a dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the Kielbasa and onions. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until sausage is cooked through. Strain the mixture through a sieve setting the kielbasa aside and discarding the onions.
In a separate pan, brown the butter and add the flour, stirring well to make a paste. Slowly add one cup of the strained broth, until thoroughly blended. If the sauce is too thick, add more broth. Add the Maggi extract, vinegar, and sugar to taste. Slice the sausage, pour the sauce over the top and serve with boiled potatoes.
All-Pork Fresh Kielbasa
Adapted from Polish Heritage Cookery
-5 pounds pork shoulder, cubed
-1/2 pound unsalted fat back, cubed
-5 garlic cloves
-2 tablespoons salt
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1/2 cup cold water
-1 package hog casings
Using a meat grinder, grind together the pork shoulder, fat back, and garlic. Add the remaining ingredients through cold water, working the mixture well by hand until it is well combined. Spread the mixture in a shallow glass pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, soak your casings in cold water for 30 minutes to remove any salt. Pat dry and stuff the casings with the mixture, according to the directions on your sausage stuffing apparatus, twisting the sausages into your desired length and shape. Allow the sausages to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before cooking. Sausages may be cooked using the recipe above, or baked. To bake, place in a pan, add 1/2 inch of boiling water and bake in a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until nicely browned, turning the sausage once during baking.