Pierogi Two Ways
This is the first in a series of posts I have planned called The Comfort Food Diner. Come on in. There’s a table waiting for you. I’ll get you a beer.
Today we’re serving up pierogi, two ways. I say two ways because in my family we have different pierogi traditions. Perhaps this is because my family is of Polish ancestry and Tuffy P’s is Ukranian (on her mom’s side…Irish on her dad’s). I’m not up on my pierogi history.
Both sides of the family go about the dough more or less the same way: flour, salt, an egg, sour cream and butter. You need to be able to roll the dough out to an eighth of an inch thick. If you make your pierogi too thick, they become heavy like bricks. We use drinking glasses to cut the dough to shape. The size of the drinking glass obviously determines the size of the pierogi, and size matters. I’ve seen some people make giant dumplings and call them pierogi, but I know you would never do such a thing. I typically use a beer glass. It’s important to not flour the dough too much, or you won’t be able to seal your perogi, and that my friends would be disaster.
I like a potato/cheese filling and there are all kinds of good variations. I boil my potatoes and then mash them up with sauteed onions and mix in ricotta cheese. Curiously, I like the Italian ricotta rather than the cottage cheese. I’m not sure why. Feel free to grate in cheddar or other cheese you like. Fresh herbs and salt and pepper finish off the filling. When Tuffy was growing up, her family also enjoyed a filling they called kapustranica. This is pierogi filled with kapusta – or saurkraut. I had never tried them this way until just a few years ago and I have to say, they’re delicious. Some people make fruit pierogi too, but that just seems wrong to me so I don’t go there.
When my mom made pierogi, she would always make a lot and freeze them in one dozen bags. I still do that today. I’ll make a dozen, lay them out on a floured plate and put the plate in the freezer. By the time I’m ready with the next dozen, the first group is frozen enough that you can put them in a plastic bag for freezing without them sealing together into one giant pierogi mass. I don’t make them so often, so when I do, I’ll make 10 or 12 dozen and give away bags of them to friends.
Construction is the same wherever you’re from. You learn quickly how much filling to use. It should be enough to make a plump dumpling, but not so much that they burst during boiling. I used the tines of a fork to close them up. I recall my mom and my aunti making them together when I was a tot, and I think they used their fingernails to seal the pierogi. I seem to recall that my aunt Stella was the fastest pierogi-maker I had ever seen. I think she made them all the time, while we only had them around high holidays.
However you serve them, pierogi have to be boiled. I know there are people who deep fry their pierogi, but that’s just ugly, isn’t it? The water should be at a roiling boil and it should be salted. I drop the pierogi in a few at a time, adding a few more maybe 20 seconds later. They float when they’re ready and I take them out with a slotted spoon and drop them into a colander to drain. It’s what you do after this which separates the camps.
My mom would take ordinary salted butter in a pan and cook it until it was what we called “burnt”. That meant it had little flecks of brown floaties in it. She would then put a dozen or so pierogi on a plate, and drizzle them with the burnt butter. Add a dollup of sour cream and serve.
On Tuffy’s side of the family, they sauteed the boiled dumplings in a pan with onions. There are variations of this. Some people like sauteeing them in bacon fat and serve them with little bacon bits. Of course just about anything is tasty fried in bacon fat, isn’t it? At Anchovy World Headquarters, we like to sautee them with onions and mushrooms in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and butter. They’re ready when the pierogi brown up a bit on each side.
There’s only one way to tell which way you like your pierogi best, and that’s to try them both ways. Curiously, I didn’t have a taste for pierogi when I was a little anchovy. I remember my brother and sister getting very excited when mom made up a batch, and I remember clearly the smell of the butter in the pan as it started to brown. Much later, I came to love them. Today we normally make them the way Tuffy’s family did, boiled then sauteed. Of course, pierogi both ways are on the menu at The Comfort Food Diner.