Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Polish Pierogi

(photo* courtesy Christopher Greene)

Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania and being of Polish descent on my father’s side, pierogi were a cornerstone of my childhood. Everybody ate them and loved them with the sort of fierce passion normally reserved for a favorite pizza joint. (Old Forge pizza is a story for another time.)

Everybody’s grandmother made them. Everybody’s grandmother sold them at the ubiquitous summer church block parties. And you better believe that everyone thought their grandmother made the best pierogi. I took their doughy potato stuffed goodness for granted. Until I moved to North Carolina.

“What do you mean, peerowgee?”

Ah, cultural differences.

A brief explanation: pierogi are basically dumplings. Unleavened dough rolled out and cut into circles and stuffed with a choice of filling. The Polish use potatoes with butter and cheese, sometimes onion. First you boil them, then you sauté or deep fry them in butter or oil. I like mine with a simple potato and cheese filling, sautéed in butter with sautéed onions on the side.

One word of caution, however: even if you love sauerkraut (as I do), do not eat sauerkraut pierogi. They are an abomination.

Like thick cut French fries with salty brown gravy and Weaver’s breaded chicken patties, pierogi were impossible to find in the South. White gravy, redeye gravy, Tyson’s chicken and barbeque in spades, but no pierogi. Now, in the interest of being a fair and balanced Yankee, I didn’t know the difference between vinegar and tomato based barbeque until 12 Bones set me straight a few years ago. Eventually I was able to locate some Mrs. T’s in the freezer section at Ingles, but they were a poor substitute. I added pierogi to my list of foods to indulge in when visiting home, but I generally put them out of my mind for a good long while.

Until now…

While poking around with a friend at the newly open Montford Books and More (formerly The Reader's Corner) a few weeks ago, I found a cookbook that looked too promising to pass up – One Potato, Two Potato by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens. Nearly 600 pages of potatoes! The typeface was clean, the pages uncluttered and the book was helpfully sectioned by all the ways you can cook a potato: mashed, fried, baked/roasted, soups and more. I dove right in and started dog-earing recipes. The next weekend, I was geeking out and sharing recipes I wanted to make with my mom. When I got to the pierogi recipe, mom took out a pen and wrote in the book the ultimate secret of good pierogi dough – sour cream. Learned from my grandmother, of course.

I was intrigued. Sour cream in dough? Dough and I already have an iffy relationship. (My first attempt at a loaf of bread went something like: Wait…knead for how long? Leavening? SECOND rise? 18 hours??) I wasn’t sure I was ready for this.

Two nights ago, I bit the bullet. And now my heritage requires that I pass this recipe along, “secret” and all.

The recipe was simple. Lots of steps, but each step is really easy. You can’t screw this up. And, they are amazingly delicious!!! Took about three hours to make, including letting the dough rest for an hour and all the cutting, stuffing, pinching and boiling, BUT! After you boil them they keep well in the fridge for a few days and freeze like a dream. These are worth every second spent on your feet. I promise. You can make a double batch and get a season’s worth of pierogi made in an afternoon.

adapted from One Potato, Two Potato

The recipe says it makes about 4 dozen dumplings, but I came up with just under 3 dozen with minimal dough scraps.

For the dough:

1 large egg
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. coarse salt (I use kosher)
2 Tbsp. sour cream
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

6-8 medium to large potatoes, peeled
coarse salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1-1 ½ cups grated cheese (I used Cabot Extra Sharp White Cheddar with great success)

To make the dough:

Combine ¼ cup warm water, the egg, melted butter, salt and sour cream in a standing mixed fitted with the paddle (I used a hand mixer, no problem).

Add the flour all at once and beat on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium low and continue to mix the dough until uniform and elastic, about 4 minutes (it took me less than two minutes total).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth. Put the dough back in the bowl you mixed in, rinsed out and lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for an hour.

To make the filling:

Peel and dice the potatoes (in this attempt, I used Yukon Golds and mistakenly left the skins on. No harm, no foul, but peel your potatoes as a matter of consistency), put in a large saucepan and cover with water by an inch. Add a pinch of salt and bring the potatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are fork tender.

Drain potatoes and return to saucepan.

Cook the potatoes in the saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes to dry them out some. Stir them around as they cook off the moisture so they do not stick. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the potatoes with a hand masher or wooden spoon. Add the butter and salt to taste and whip into the potatoes. Add the cheese and mix until combined. The heat of the potatoes should help melt and incorporate the cheese. Let mixture cool to room temperature.

Alternate filling instructions:

A mom suggestion to try next time: bake potatoes in the oven until fork-tender. Remove from oven, let cool, cut in half and scoop out filling into a bowl. This eliminates the extra step of drying out the potatoes as well as a need to peel the potatoes beforehand.

To make the pierogi:

Cut the dough in half, setting one piece aside for later, covered. Roll the other half out as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. Cut circles from the dough with a 3-inch cookie cutter (I used an inverted glass to great effect) and gather up the scraps to be re-rolled.

Spoon a heaping teaspoon of mashed potatoes into the center of the dough circle and fold the dough over into a half-moon shape. This dough is stretchy and pliable…I was pleasantly surprised. Do not be afraid to play with it. Pinch the edges together to seal and set the dumpling on a floured towel or floured corner of your work space. A lesson I learned is that the filled pierogi will stick to one another, so please don’t set them on top of one another. As an alternative, you could add the pierogi to a bowl with some oil or melted butter and coat each as you add them, but that seems like an unnecessary step. The dough should seal under the pressure of your fingers, but feel free to wet seal the edges with a little water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add a tablespoon of canola oil. Cook the pierogi in batches for 3-4 minutes. I did 6-8 pierogi at a time. Using a skimmer, remove the pierogi to a bowl.

After the pierogi are boiled, you can either sauté them right then, or refrigerate/freeze for later.

*This is not a staged photo. I held the pierogi for ransom until Chris took a picture. Hence why the silverware are on the other side of the plate, in reverse order. Obviously.


  1. You know I've never had these, but they look so tasty! must try :)

  2. Yes, lovie. Sour cream in dough. You may actually be surprised how often sour cream is used in baking.. mwahahaha...

    Having grown up like 30 minutes from you and never known it, I also know the sheer greatness of the pierogi. I will be trying this recipe very soon!


  3. @Cherry - and you being from New York State? Tsk.

    @Nicole - yay! I'm so glad...yes, I've certainly used sour cream in baked goods before, sometimes as a substitute, but never as such a perfect compliment. It really makes the dish. I cannot stress how WORTH it the effort is to make these. Do it! You (and Lance) will be glad you did!

  4. Farmer's cheese is another excellent type of cheese to try.

  5. Thanks, Anon. Any particular kind of farmer's cheese? Where can I find it? What sort of flavor does it impart?