Kielbasa means sausage in Polish and not a specific type or style, but in the United States and in particular around the Great Lakes region, kielbasa is pork sausage, often pre-smoked, in two standard forms. Either about the diameter of a quarter and “U” shaped or a single link. You can get them from Milwaukee-based Klement’s or Usinger’s (or if you are lucky, locally from your favorite butcher). Or you can get it from these guys, the inspiration for our title, with their version of a childhood chant. Where ever you procure your kielbasa, here are two variations of Polish dishes to maximize your enjoyment of them.
We initially intended to prepare the Klement’s kielbasa traditionally and serve with grilled onions and pickle with some stone ground mustard, but the lure of bigos is too strong. Bigos is in the same food family as Alsatian choucroute or any number of German preparations of smoked meats with sauerkraut. So we elected to go with smoked kielbasa heated over sauerkraut to which we had added smoked pork and smoked pork lard. We served it topped with caramelized red onions, tomatoes and the requisite pickle. The pretzel bun is toasted, buttered and then smeared with stone ground mustard.
So let’s pretend you don’t eat all of them in one epic feast, a few left-over smoked kielbasa are ideal in this next preparation:
Kielbasa and White Beans
16 ounces dried white beans
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup smoked lard (or butter)
3 smoked kielbasa links, sliced
28 ounce can tomatoes
1 Tbs. dried marjoram (or similar dried herbs)
4 cups low-salt chicken broth (see discussion below)
Salt and pepper
Goat cheese and fresh dill for garnish
We choose to quick-soak the beans, which involves covering them in water in a large pot and bringing to a boil for 2 minutes and then allowing to cool for an hour. See this discussion of soaking which pretty much covers anything we could say on the matter. We quick-soak to minimize cooking time in the oven, if you do not pre-soak, you may need more broth than indicated above. Drain the beans and set aside. In a large pot over medium heat, place 1/2 cup lard. We had lard from a pork shoulder smoked a few weeks prior and it adds a wonderful flavor, but you can use butter and perhaps a bit of smoked salt if you have it handy. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, cooking until starting to brown, then add garlic and kielbasa. Cook until kielbasa begins to render fat and caramelizes on the edges then remove from heat.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large earthenware pot with a cover, place the beans, tomatoes, and herbs. Add kielbasa mixture to earthenware dish and splash pot with chicken broth to remove any browned bits, then pour all chicken broth over the beans. Cover and bake until beans are tender but still retain structure, about 2 hours. The cook times can vary greatly based on the size and type of earthenware dish as well as the approach taken to the beans. Keep adding more water or broth as they cook to keep moist, but not soaked, along the lines of cooking a risotto.
This is ideally made a day or two in advance and refrigerated to allow flavors to blend. We served this topped with goat cheese blended with chopped fresh dill and a hearty sourdough bread with butter.
A soul-satisfying, hearty winter stew with the added tang and creaminess of the dill and melting cheese. A delicious starting point for inspiration of new dishes in our Great Lakes Cuisine tradition. The only regret, no ice-cold glass of Tyskie alongside.