Gastronaut: Kielbasa

various kielbasa
various kielbasa (from left to right): various kabanosy, weselna, mysliwska, wiejska, krajana, kiszka, parowki, parowki drobiowe, krakowska, jalowcowa; photo © Gordon Lingley

Taste, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the new Greenpointers food series Gastronaut. Its continuing mission: to explore strange, new ingredients; to seek out new flavors and new techniques; to boldly go where no food has gone before.

Grilling season is upon us and, since Greenpoint is home to at least seven meat markets, it’s high time you upped your grilling game.

Walking into a Polish meat market can be a bit overwhelming. For starters, most, if not all, of the signage is in Polish and, at least in my experience, not everyone behind the counter speaks English. Don’t be discouraged. With a little patience and this decoder key, you’ll be the star of your summer bbq or picnic in the park.

I should probably begin by saying that “kielbasa” simply means “sausage” in Polish, so walking into a meat shop and asking for a kielbasa is akin to walking into to a cheese shop and asking for some cheese—you’ll get a bunch of blank stares.

This guide will help point you in the right direction, but, when in doubt, go with your gut. Literally. If something looks good, try it—chances are it’s worth your time.

A few caveats:

  • Not every kielbasa is available at every location and many aren’t available every day.
  • This list only scratches the surface of Polish meats, and focuses only on the kielbasa family—there are dozens of other varieties to try.
  • Each meat market has their own recipes, so flavors and textures (for the same style kielbasa) will vary from one shop to the next.

The Guide:

Kiszka (KEESH-kah), Krupniok (KRROOP-nee-ahk), Kaszanka (kah-SHAHN-kah) – Also known as: Blood Sausage. Don’t be put off by the blood. And yes, it really does contain blood, but it’s mixed with spices and barley (or buckwheat groats). Though usually cooked, it can also be sold raw, so it’s best to ask the butcher which you’re getting. Either way, this is generally served either sliced into medallions and pan-fried or removed from the casing entirely and pan-fried in a hash. It’s delicious as a breakfast side (something the English have known for centuries) and might soon become your new go-to hashbrown.

biala kielbasa
biala kielbasa; photo © Gordon Lingley

Surowa (soo-RO-voh), Biala (BEEYAH-wah) – Surowa means “raw,” and unlike some other kielbasa that have surowa in the name (notably, surowo wedzona, which means “raw” and “smoked”) this one is actually raw, and it looks the part. It can be boiled, baked, sauteed, or barbequed (whole, in its edible casing) with great results. Though available year-round, it is indispensable at Easter and Christmas, and is traditionally served with sauerkraut, noodles, or in zurek (sour bread) soup.

Kabanosy (kah-bah-NO-see) – These come in many varieties, but they’re similar, at least in appearance, to a pepperoni stick. They are generally about the diameter of your finger and range from 6-18” long, give or take. Heat levels vary, from mild to spicy (pikantne), as do the meats, generally pork (wieprozowe), but can also be veal (cielece) or chicken (drobiowe). Not really meant for the grill, these are a great snack to take to the park or on a hike.

Mysliwska (mish-LEEV-skah) – Mysliwska means “hunter,” and is so named because, being both smoked and dried, its low moisture content makes it the perfect snack for hunters in the field. While it can be eaten at room temperature, due to its concentrated flavor, it’s also a great addition to soups and stews. Because it’s already smoked and dried, it’s not great on the grill.

Weselna (veh-SEL-nah) – Weselna means “wedding,” and this kielbasa was apparently very popular at weddings and other significant events. Often times just called double-smoked, it is usually intensely dark in color and smoke flavor. Typically served sliced, at room temperature. Again, because it’s double-smoked, it’s not ideal on the grill, but is right at home in soups and stews or on a cheese plate.

Parowki (pah-ROOV-kee) – These are the “hot dogs” of the group. Generally sold in a plastic casing (which should be removed before cooking and eating), they are a very fine grind of pork (and pork “bits”) or chicken or veal. Available both smoked and unsmoked, they are traditionally boiled and served immediately, but typically not on a bun.

Krakowska (krah-KOHV-skah) – A reference to Krakow (which has nothing to do with its flavor) this one is generally a bit larger in diameter and is lightly smoked. Very lean and more ham-like, it’s traditionally sliced thin and served as an appetizer or on sandwiches.

Jalowcowa (yah-voh-SO-vah) – The name of this smoked and dried kielbasa refers to the juniper it contains. Juniper is added both to the pork mixture and the smoker, to impart a mild pine flavor. Best served at room temperature, making it ideal for picnics, hikes, and cheese plates.

Wiejska (vee-AY-skah) – Usually made in a U-shape, this is probably the kielbasa that most Americans imagine when they think of kielbasa. Loosely translated “country-style,” this kielbasa typically packs more garlicky flavor than other varieties, and generally features pork or a mixture of pork and veal. It can be eaten at room temperature or fresh off the grill.

Krajana (krai-AH-nah) – This double-smoked kielbasa is similar to wiejska, but is generally larger, made from chunks of pork instead of ground pork, and features a thicker casing. Great as a cold cut, but also great on the grill.

While I’m not endorsing any meat market in particular, for “first-timers” I think Polka Dot Cafe is a great place to start—the selection is solid and the younger staff speak English. It’s also set up more like a cafe, with tables and a selection of classic Polish dishes, encouraging guests to linger. The other locations are definitely just meat markets, with the exception of AS Warehouse, which is a full-fledged Polish grocery store. Explore them all.

Businesses:
Kiszka Meat Market, 915 Manhattan Ave.
Sikorski Meat Market, 603 Manhattan Ave.
Polam International, 952 Manhattan Ave.
Driggs Meat Market, 160 Driggs Ave.
Polka Dot Cafe/Polski Meat Market, 726 Manhattan Ave.
Mazur Meat Market, 922 Manhattan Ave.
AS Warehouse, 276 McGuinness Blvd.

About Gordon Lingley

When Gordon’s not cooking, he’s thinking about cooking. If unchecked, he will eat the whole pie.

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