Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Illinois II - Swiety Jacek z pierogami!***

My previous Illinois post examined the legendary Chicago deep-dish pizza. Of course, Italians are not the only Chicagoans who have altered the Midwestern foodie landscape. Greeks, Cubans, South Asians, Jews, Russians, Irish, African-Americans, Chinese, and so on - I could list ethnicities for the rest of this post. They have all contributed to Chicago's cuisine. The first (and so far only) time I visited Chicago, way back around 2000, I had Japanese, Armenian and Thai food in just a few days. Among those many ethnicities who have defined Chicago's cuisine are the Polish, who have had an important impact in the Windy City, boasting the largest Polish-American community in the country.

Official Name: State of Illinois
State Nicknames: The Prairie State; The Land of Lincoln
Admission to the US: December 3, 1818 (#21)
Springfield (6th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Chicago (largest in the state and the Midwest; 3rd largest in the US); Aurora (2nd largest); Rockford (3rd largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Wild Rice
Bordered by:
Wisconsin (north); Lake Michigan (northeast); Indiana (east); Kentucky (southeast & south); Missouri (southwest); Iowa (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: popcorn (snack food); GoldRush apple (fruit); white-tailed deer (animal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: typical Midwestern foods, especially corn; Native American and pioneer foods; state-specific foods (horseshoe sandwich, shrimp de Jonghe, Chicago dog, Italian beef); also note: deep-dish pizza and hot dogs were first made popular in Illinois

Lamenting our own canceled Polish Festival in Baltimore, I felt extra-inspired to delve into that most beloved of Polish dumplings, the pierogi. The Polish American Journal has a whole webpage just on Polish and Polish American foods. There is so much I did not know about Polish food, but I do now know just how important the pierogi is. Apparently it even has its own patron saint - St. Hyacinth. May he grant this Irish-Italian guy luck in his first attempt at making that most Polish of dumplings.

The recipe: Pierogi (with Potato and Sauerkraut Fillings)

Though there are variations of pierogi all over Eastern Europe (Going through withdrawal over the Polish one? Wait for the Ukrainian Festival. They will have them), we know them best as Polish food, and far be it from me to say which culture's is best. Chef Robert Strybel of the same Polish American Journal mentions that they are such an important part of everyday life in Poland, as he says, it even led to a common expression.

"Swiety Jacek z pierogami!", (St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!) is an old expression of surprise, roughly equivalent to the American "good grief!" or "holy smokes!" Nobody seems to know what the connection between these dumplings and the saintly 13th century monk was all about. [Strybel 2011]
With all the pierogi recipes online, I went with Strybel's, done less in recipe format and more in a narrative. It was a little more difficult to follow this way, but it worked. I more or less followed his recipe as he wrote it, with changes noted below.

I made two types of pierogi (singular and plural), potato and sauerkraut-mushroom. I made half of one and half of the other. Here's what I needed:

* For the dough I just needed all purpose flour, an egg, sa00lt and sour cream. I had all these around the kitchen.
* I had all the ingredients for the fillings as well: an onion, a few russet potatoes, another egg, butter, sauerkraut, mushrooms (dried), bread crumbs (optional) and chives.

I ended up making all the pierogi in batches: first the dough, then the fillings on another day, and then assembling and cooking them all later on. It was not so much difficult as it was tedious. There are a lot of steps to making these things.

The dough was easy to make in the food processor: just throw the ingredients together and when they are blended take it out and flatten it.
What's Polish for "stress relief"?

The one change I made: most recipes call for adding a little sour cream to the pierogi dough, but Strybel's does not. I went ahead and added about two tablespoons.

Mix in the sour cream (this is where I deviate from the recipe) until well blended, and refrigerate.

For the potato filling, simply boil the potatoes, and fry up the onion in butter. Mash the potatoes and mix with the onion, egg and chives.

The sauerkraut filling starts by soaking the dried mushrooms in enough water to barely cover them. You will then let them soak for a few hours at least (I just left mine in the fridge for a few days and came back to them when I was ready). Chop or cut up the mushrooms and boil them in the water until reduced.

Meanwhile, drain the sauerkraut well and scald it in boiling water for 20 minutes, then add the mushrooms and some more sautéed onions, and cook for 30 minutes more. Let cool.

The assembly is the tedious part. You will roll out your pierogi dough and cut it out with a cookie cutter or something else round.

Then take a little bit of filling, put in the middle (or moreover, near it)...

...fold it over and crimp the sides with a fork.

Boil the pierogi in water and set aside. From here you can eat them or freeze them.

Or you could make them a little more palatable by frying them in butter.

I had a good bit of trouble making these pierogi. I started with enough dough for 30. About six or seven burst open before I even dropped them in the water, and another two or three burst open in the water. Eventually I had about 2/3 or what I started with. What I had left went well with sour cream and leftover sauerkraut filling, to which I added some salt (the scalding really takes the zing out of the sauerkraut). These were hearty pierogi, which I would always recommend you fry before eating. Not only does the butter add something to them, but they just become more palatable this way.

*** Saint Hyacinth and his pierogi! - A Polish expression equivalent to "Good grief!" according to Robert Strybel


Strybel, Robert. "Recipes". The Polish-American Journal, publish date unknown. © 2011 The Polish American Journal, All Rights Reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Illinois" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Illinois".


theminx said...

As I suspected, pierogi are more trouble to make than they're worth. :) I'll stick to Mrs T's.

John said...

They are. They really, really are.