Mention “kielbasa” to a non-Pole, and you’re likely to trigger a mental image of something very unlike this traditional Polish sausage.
Kielbasa, which in the Americas goes by a number of transformed names, including “kielbasi” or simply “Polish sausage,” is a generic name for almost any type of sausage in Poland, and while primarily associated with this country, is actually a staple of many diets in Eastern Europe.
Unfortunately, the kielbasa we’ve come to know and love as Poles has been widely simplified (as we’ll see below), and put through an industrial production line that values quantity over quality.
Types of Kielbasa
There are almost as many types of kielbasa as there are areas of Poland, since the sausage was adapted to every local cuisine, as well as changing with the seasons, when different types of meat and preparation techniques were available to locals. Still, through the years, a number of specific variants have become “classics” in the kielbasa roster. They include:
- Wiejska: The “country” or “farm” sausage is the basic kielbasa most people think of as the standard. It usually contains pork, veal, garlic, and marjoram. It is this variant that was Americanized & converted into mass-produced kielbasa.
- Krakowska (from Krakow): A smoked variety with garlic and pepper. It can be made in a similar size to the traditional sausage, or in a 3-4″ thick version.
- Mysliwska (hunter’s sausage)
- Biala (white): Best known for its use in the traditional Polish Easter soup, zurek.
- Kabanosy: A very thin smoked sausage that can be eaten as a snack.
- Parowki: The Polish version of a “hot dog,” and what’s served under the name of “kielbasa” in places like Costco.
Americanized Kielbasa is not very appetizing on its own, instead preferred as a base for stews or sauces. This is partly due to its fatty texture, which makes it taste more like mush than the consistency of soft meat.
In reality, eating kielbasa as a stand-alone dish is very common, and it can be found as an appetizer at almost any Polish party or holiday celebration.
Some of the other ways kielbasa is traditionally consumed include:
- Grilled kielbasa (over a grill or open flame), which is typically notched with a knife before cooking to create tasty pockets of seared meat along its skin.
- In sandwiches, used in the same way any other sandwich meat would be, and very often paired with a soured pickle.
- As a meat basis for bigos, the traditional Polish hunter’s stew made with cabbage.
- Pan-fried with onions, which gives the kielbasa a nice sear and caramelizes the onions, and is frequently served with a simple slice of bread.
- In soup, like the Polish zurek, or white barszcz.
- In sauces, like those for pastas, pierogies, and others.
Where to Find Kielbasa
To experience the true range of what authentic kielbasa has to offer, your best bet is to find a local Polish deli where you can buy it directly. Less environmentally friendly, but almost equally tasty (kielbasa freezes very well), you can order kielbasa online for delivery from any number of vendors.