Pork with cabbage again?! It’s a frequent cry in Polish lunch bars. We’ve covered this ubiquitous Polish dish before, but what other options are there for Polish carnivores?
Another popular, everyday meat dish is kotlet mielony – meat cutlets, or patties. They are usually prepared with pork or beef, and occasionally with veal. The cutlets are typically served with mashed potatoes and a vegetable – cold salads (chopped or grated raw vegetables, pickled cabbage, cucumbers with sour cream) or fried grated beets. This combination is a fixture at milk bars and lunch counters. Meat patties (like pork cutlet) became popular during the time when Poland was under communism, though they were around earlier. Almost every nineteenth-century cookbook provides a recipe for minced beef, pork, or veal cutlets – though in reality the meat was ground. This recipe has not changed for a hundreds of years: ‘take a kilo of roast topside and run it twice through a grinder with two hard, dry rolls. Add one whole egg, salt (and if you like, add a little grated fried onion), divide into equal parts and rolling them on breadcrumbs, form oblong patties’. The first Polish cookbook from the seventeenth century (Copendum Ferculorum by St. Czerniecki) contains a recipe for ‘figatelle’ – a kind of meatball with various chopped meats, which are prepared like today’s meat cutlets, but seasoned in the fashion of the era.
Meat in horseradish sauce
Meat has an important place in the history of Polish cuisine – a fact of which the authors of old cookbooks were well aware. One of the most widely read authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa (her Universal Cookbook was published at the end of the nineteenth century and has been translated into English) underscored that a good piece of meat is the most common dish on both the humblest and the most lavish of tables: ‘it is a favourite food of all men, considered the basis of a good dinner, and is often laid on the king’s table. Even the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph had to have a piece of meat with a flower every day for dinner’. A century before that, the famous Jan Szyttler (chef at the court of the last Polish king – Stanisław August Poniatowski – and later the author of many cookbooks) was of the same opinion: ‘At each table the primary thing is soup and a piece of meat.’ It is worth noting that in the past this dish was understood as boiled (stewed) meat broth (not just beef), to which were added a variety of trimmings and sauces. Today the dish is still common – beef boiled in broth and served with horseradish sauce. You can order at eateries and restaurants serving traditional Polish cuisine. When prepared properly, with good quality products, it is very tasty.
Veal paprikash entered Polish cuisine through the influence of Hungary. The dish first appeared in Polish cookbooks in the nineteenth century. After frying diced veal, it is stewed with garlic, paprika (preferably Hungarian), and seasoned cream. According to experts, it is the cream that distinguishes paprikash from goulash. Maria Disslow, author of the well-known column How to Cook, advises adding drop dumplings to the paprikash. The dish is great served this way, but it’s more often accompanied by potatoes, which are equally tasty. Pickles are a mandatory addition to paprikash. In restaurants serving traditional Polish cuisine, well-prepared veal paprikash can be an exquisite dish and extremely flavoursome – it’s worth a taste.
There is no Polish cuisine without roulades (zrazy), which are prepared in two ways. Zrazy Zawijane (stuffed rolls of beef) are slices of meat (usually beef) that are rolled out and wrapped around a stuffing. There are also roulades of rolled meat stewed in gravy with onion or mushroom sauce. Legend has it that King Władysław Jagiełło was a fan of this dish, which is derived from Lithuanian cuisine. Regardless of the recipe’s provenance, roulades are commonly associated with noble kitchens. Every cookbook from the nineteenth century provides recipes for at least a dozen variations on the dish. To this day, the dish is accompanied by buckwheat or barley. Given its history, it is not surprising that this culturally important dish is described in Poland’s national epic – Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz.
Major, how about roulades? (…)
They brought a bowl, sugar, bottles, and roulades,
Płut and Ryków got to work quickly,
So ravenously did they eat and copiously did they drink,
That in half an hour they had eaten twenty-three roulades.
Interestingly, roulades were sometimes served for breakfast (unthinkable today), especially before a day of hunting (much like bigos):
In the end, they brought roulades for the final course:
Such was breakfast in the Judge’s house.
These days, roulades are found in innumerable guises. The dish is often served in restaurants specialising in traditional Polish cuisine. It’s worth trying roulades served with bacon, pickles, chopped onion, mustard, and chopped forest mushrooms. The old Polish recipe of rolled beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms and cream is also delicious.
Steak tartare is a dish well known to the Poles. It’s possible that it was brought to the Wisła under the influence of French cuisine. At the beginning of the twentieth century in France, elegant restaurants served a dish of finely chopped, raw beef (steak l’americanne avec sauce tatare – ‘American steak with tartar sauce’). When it appeared in the first edition of Larousse Gastronomique in the 1930s, the name was shortened to its current form, ‘steak tartare’.
Tartare was valued and appeared in Polish cuisine of the era; the average Polish restaurant in the interwar period had to have fresh steak tartare on its menu. It was recommended ‘for people with poor circulation or suffering from a lack of appetite’. Here’s a recipe from the late nineteenth century that has changed little since then: ‘Clean beef tenderloin of fat and veins (…) with a knife chop as much meat as you want to have in your serving. Add finely chopped onions or shallots, some salt and pepper, and knead into round steaks. Make a depression in the middle of each and add a raw egg yolk. Dress you plate with finely cut cornichons, pickled mushrooms, radishes, and capers. If you prefer a sharper taste, you can add oil mixed with a teaspoon of mustard’.
Of course, steak tartare should be ordered in good restaurants, which pay attention to the quality and freshness of their meat and eggs.
Polish pork goulash does not have much in common with the Hungarian national dish – you can say it is a dish sui generis, which took root in everyday Polish kitchens in the second half of the twentieth century (although goulash closer to the original Hungarian version can be found in old Polish cookbooks). Today, pork goulash is synonymous with cheap, homey kitchens – it’s usually served at cafeterias and inexpensive eateries. It is prepared with cheaper cuts of pork, chopped into pieces and stewed in gravy with spices typical of Polish cuisine (e.g. allspice). The goulash is served with potatoes, and sometimes atop potato pancakes (either Hungarian or southern Polish highlands style).
Pork knuckles (golonka) are a staple of Polish roadside inns and taverns – the lower part of the pork shoulder with a bone, cooked until tender, is usually served with horseradish or mustard, and cabbage or peas. In Poland, there are even various pork knuckle festivals, where chefs experiment with this (not too healthy) dish. Alien to old Polish culinary traditions, the dish was borrowed from German cuisine (first in Wielkopolska, which was under Prussian rule for over 100 years). It has since become so ingrained in the landscape of Polish cuisine that it is seen as a specialty native to Poland. So much so, that the Ministry of Agriculture added pork knuckles to the list of traditional products of Poland – not only the Wielkopolska style, but also variations from Pomorska, Beskidzka, and Sądecka.
Cutlet de volaille
Cutlet de volaille, or Chicken Kiev, is a dish made with flattened chicken breast, stuffed with butter and spices (such as garlic and dill, and sometimes cheese, mushrooms, and ham), then breaded and, in accordance with the original recipe, fried in clarified butter. It was popularised in the interwar period, and after 1945 the best Polish restaurants considered it the pinnacle of culinary sophistication. After 1989, the dish was widespread, albeit in bars rather than fine restaurants. Fried in oil, Chicken Kiev is offered at almost every roadside bar. Although the Polish name suggests a French origin, Chicken Kiev is not a dish of French cuisine. It came to the Polish lands from Russia during the time of partition in the nineteenth century. The dish probably originated from kitchen of the legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who in 1818 cooked at the court of Tsar Alexander I. In Ukraine and America the dish is known as ‘Chicken Kiev’. In Poland, it has retained its original name ‘Kotlet de volaille’.
Duck with apples and marjoram
Duck roasted with apples and marjoram is a dish commonly found in Polish homes during festive occasions, but is also readily available in restaurants specialising in Polish cuisine. According to a recipe from the late nineteenth century, which remains largely unchanged, you need to rub the duck inside and out with salt and marjoram (and often garlic) for several hours, then stuff it with apples before cooking. Depending on the region, the dish can be served with various sides – in Wielkopolska it is always found with steamed potato dumplings or red cabbage.
The dish is so widespread that the friendly bird became the hero of one of the most popular Polish poems for children – The Eccentric Duck, by the legendary Jan Brzechwa:
The chef carefully baked the duck,
As it should be, in the roasting pan.
But when lunch was served, he was dumbfounded,
For the duck became a hare.
And all covered in beets,
Such an eccentric duck she was!
That hare with beets – into which the unfortunate duck is transformed – is another delightful Polish dish. Unfortunately – due to the decreasing hare population in recent years – it is less and less common.
And at the end – don’t forget about bigos! This dish is almost a symbol of Polish cuisine. When ordering bigos in a restaurant, it is worth checking how it was prepared. Bigos is, in fact, a dish of several kinds of meat with some cabbage – not vice versa!