The pieróg is a very homely fare. You can eat at the highest-rated Polish restaurants in Greenpoint, Brooklyn or Chicago’s Northwest side. The best pierogi, though, will be at your ciocia’s, or aunt’s, house in some out-of-the-way village in Poland. She’ll tumble the half-moon dumplings-caramelized onions and all-straight from the fry pan onto your plate. You’ll bite into their crisp-yet-chewy center, savoring the sauerkraut she fermented herself and the mushrooms she plucked from a nearby forest. You’ll lose track of how many you’ve consumed.Of course, the second best pierogi is the one you make for yourself. At its most basic form, the dumpling is a pocket of unleavened dough, filled with savory ingredients, like potato and twarog cheese, or sweet fruits such as blueberries. But as Polish writer Zuza Zak showcases in Pierogi: Over 50 Recipe to Create Perfect Polish Dumplings, this formula can be remixed to make room for a buttermilk dough encasing broad beans and feta, or a pink and yellow marbled variety, filled with rhubarb and swimming in custard.”For a very long time, Polish cuisine definitely had the reputation of being quite stodgy, heavy, and not full of flavour. And I think that harks back to communist times,” Zak explains. “In the ’90s, post-communism, the country was in chaos, and communism forbade any kind of private businesses. So no one had restaurants. That whole culture didn’t develop in Poland.”
The result was cheap, state-sponsored eateries, which still exist today for visitors who are seeking a nostalgic, traditional taste of the country’s cuisine. “But what I think people weren’t getting was the variation in Polish food-the regional variation that you got to taste when you went to people’s homes,” Zak says.The author separates Pierogi into two parts: one that pays tribute to traditional, regional recipes that span the fishy flavours of the Baltic Sea to the unique combo of smoky and sour found in the mountainous south; and one that experiments with modern renditions, including gluten-free and vegan options.
Zak presents a number of origin stories for pierogi, which share similarities with their Eastern European cousins, the Ukrainian varenyky and Russian pelmeni. Legend has it, for example, that in the early 13th century, Saint Jacek brought pierogi over from Ukraine, after tasting them at a convent in Kyiv. But Zak believes the most plausible theory relates to the unwritten history of women in the kitchen.”Once they had flour, some fat, and water, they would naturally have put those together and experimented to make something that would add a bit of variety to the kitchen. And of course, pierogi are a wonderful way of using up leftovers, which is exactly what we do in the Boxing Day pierogi recipe,” Zak says.
Zak files her Boxing Day pierogi as a traditional recipe, but with the zero waste movement of today, it can also be thought of as a modern one. The idea is to make pierogi out of the leftover turkey, potatoes, and vegetables from a roast dinner, fry them to crispy perfection in fat from the bird, and eat them alongside a seasonal cranberry sauce.”It’s funny how people seem to think that pierogi dough is much more complicated than it is,” Zak says. “The simplest Polish dough is literally just flour, a little bit of salt, oil, and hot water.” And it’s remarkably forgiving. If you’ve added too much water and the dough feels too wet, add more flour. Conversely, If you’ve added too much flour and the dough feels too dry, add a splash of water. “It’s a very instinctive process,” Zak says, but most important is that you let the dough rest for 20 minutes or so.
“When working with leftovers, you really can stick anything that was on your table into a pierogi,” Zak says. “But the thing is, you need something to bind the filling together.” This could be anything from feta to sweet potato, or you can simply crack an egg. “Another important thing is to make sure you don’t have any bones. So do take all the meat off by hand and chop it up.”
The cranberry sauce, which is made from fresh or frozen cranberries, sugar, and the juice and zest of an orange, seems to be a universal dish-a mainstay of Thanksgiving in the U.S. as well as Christmas Day in the U.K., where Zak lives. But it’s also eaten on top of oscypek, a grilled mountain cheese, in Poland. It’s a perfectly tart complement to any hearty meal. To cook the pierogi, you’ll boil them first before pan frying for extra crispness. But if you anticipate having leftovers from your leftovers, Zak recommends freezing the extra pierogi before boiling. To prevent the dumplings from sticking together, simply leave some room between each one on a baking tray, perhaps adding some flour, and as soon as they’re frozen, transfer them into a box. Then, you’ll cook from frozen, giving them a bit more time to boil. “Once they float to the top, rather than two to three minutes, maybe give them five minutes,” Zak says.
Perhaps the best part of enjoying pierogi are the crispy bits you get when finishing them off in a fry pan on high heat, and, sometimes, they’re fried with a crunchy topping called okrasa, which can be anything from bacon to celeriac. In this recipe, Zak suggests frying the pierogi in goose fat, but you can really use any animal fat you have left over from the roast. “This just gives that kind of richness to the pierogi. So you’re still really enjoying the Christmas dinner, but in a completely different form,” she says.
And if you were in need of any more convincing, this recipe is perfect for moments of bonding. “It’s a really fun, active family activity,” Zak says. “You can just sort of sit around a big table, get the kids involved, drink coffee or tea, and connect to one another making pierogi. And that feels like what holiday time should be about, really.”
Boxing Day Pierogi
Ingredients: For the cranberry sauce:
150g (5 ½ oz) fresh or frozen cranberries
3 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
Juice of 1 orange
For the dough:
300g (10 ½ oz / 2 ¼ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra to dust
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Large pinch of salt
100–120ml (3 ½ – 4 fl oz /7 tbsp – ½ cup) warm water (from a pre-boiled kettle)
For the filling:
150g (5 ½ oz) roast turkey meat, finely diced
150g (5 ½ oz) roast potatoes, finely diced
Handful of mixed roasted vegetables, finely diced or 50g (1 ¾ oz) frozen peas, cooked
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and white pepper
20g ( ¾ oz) goose fat, for frying
1. Make the cranberry sauce first, as it needs to chill in the fridge. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the cranberries fall apart and the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Cool and transfer to a sealed container (this can keep in the fridge for up to a week).
2. Put all the ingredients for the dough, apart from the water, in a large bowl and combine with your hand. Slowly pour the water into the bowl with one hand while mixing with the other. Add just enough of the measured water to bring it together (you may not need it all). Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 6–7 minutes, then cover with a clean, damp dish towel and allow to rest at room temperature for 20–30 minutes.
3. Make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a bowl and seasoning well.
4. Roll the dough out as thinly as you can and you use your favourite method to shape, fill and seal the pierogi, placing them on a lightly floured surface as you go.
5. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and boil the pierogi in batches. When they float to the top, give them an extra 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon, shake off any excess water, and transfer to a warm bowl with the goose fat in it. Toss gently to coat.
6. Heat a large frying pan and carefully fry the cooked pierogi on both sides in the goose fat until golden and crispy. Serve and enjoy with the cranberry sauce. Excerpted with permission from Pierogi by Zuza Zak published by Quadrille, September 2022, RRP $24.00 Hardcover.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.