I’d like to introduce you to some of Poland’s produce that is available here in London among the Polish community.
There are many Polish shops, delicatessens dotted around the UK since the EU opened its borders to Poland post-communism and Poles have come in droves. Some have settled and now call the UK home, others came for a short period of time and returned to Poland. One thing that has happened is that Polish produce is now more commonplace than before.
There is a curiosity about some of these which is natural for British people. When a community settles, even for a while, the easiest way to try to understand them is to sample their food. Unfortunately either because of language difficulties or shyness some may have found it difficult to convey information about the produce.
The most plentiful are our sausages and hams. Since the overthrow of communism Poland has been very enthusiastic to learn about the flavours of other nations, having for over 150 years been isolated from the world. This has led to some interesting adoptions of flavours. Although the Polish sausage has maintained pride in both texture and flavours, there is some experimentation in subtle differences, drying sausages so they have a texture similar to salamis and are eaten as such. Others adding herbs and spices to give a variation of flavour.
Many Polish sausages can be eaten as they come, some will need to have the casing removed carefully before eating. Most can be heated and served as part of a dish or even the main part.
Each region of Poland has its own specialities and seasonal variations of sausages and hams. Some are kept for special occasions such as Christmas or Easter, Lent or other festivities. Others are eaten on a daily basis.
Hams come in various forms, some are simply boiled and smoked. some are smoked, others are pressed meats such as a mortadella with vegetables, some have herbs and pepper coatings around the edge to add flavour, others are meat in aspic which is very much prized and eaten in spring and summer months.
However, there is one particular ham I do wish to talk about and that is our Boczek. This is a cut of the belly pork which is usually smoked, or brine cured and very useful. There are different types of smoked which range from lightly smoked but raw (if you see the word “surowa” it means raw and the meat should always be cooked) to brine cured “beczka” (in a barrel) and then hung to dry. This is a wonderful meat which can be used in so many dishes and a first class alternative to pancetta. I actually prefer this to pancetta, not least because I can choose how smoked I want it, but also because it works out much cheaper if you buy a whole piece, cut it and use it as pancetta. It keeps very well in the fridge for about 2 weeks giving you plenty of dishes to add flavour to. Smacznego!
Most Poles are friendly and are happy to help shoppers make a choice of what to buy, so do ask.