I have been to quite a number of Polish festivals and other events in the United States over the years and there is one dish that is consistently served to guests: pierogi. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines pierogi as: “a case of dough filled with a typically savory filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables) and cooked by boiling and then panfrying.” When we visited Krakow, Poland last summer, we came across (and ate in) a couple of pierogi houses and also “bar mleczny” (milk bars) that prepare mountains of pierogi. Hands down, the best pierogi we had during our trip were at my husband’s cousin’s house. In fact, I’m pretty much convinced that the best pierogi you’ll ever eat are those that come out of a home kitchen!
The most Polish of all fillings is sauerkraut and mushroom, but here in the U.S., I most commonly see “Ruskie” (i.e., Ruthenian) pierogi which are potato and cheese-filled pierogi. In third place are cherry or blueberry pierogi, and in fourth place are meat-filled pierogi. Standing on their own are special pierogi called “uszka” served during Christmas Eve supper with a special beet soup (“czysty barszcz czerwony wigilijny”). These pierogi are shaped sort of like ears and are filled with wild mushrooms.
I firmly believe pierogi rise and fall depending on the dough. The dough should be pretty thin when rolled out and quite tender when cooked. Making the dough at home is a snap. [It’s the rest of the process that takes up most of the time.] I’ve tried all kinds of pierogi dough recipes, including ones that add in sour cream, are made with only warm milk and flour, or use oil and water. What I come back to again and again is the most basic and traditional recipe of all, which is simply flour, egg, water, and a touch of salt.
Following is the recipe to make this type of pierogi dough. The recipe is deceptively long, and that is because I also include instructions on rolling out the dough, filling the pierogi, and cooking (boiling) the pierogi. I also include suggestions for fillings in the Notes section. If you’d like a step-by-step tutorial with photos, meet me after the recipe.
This is what you’ll need to make the dough. Feel free to double the recipe.
First, boil some water. Measure out 1/2 a cup and let it come down in temperature until you consider it to be still “hot” but not so hot that you’ll burn yourself. This takes about 5-7 minutes. You could just use hot water from the tap, but I’ve found that the water might not be hot enough as the dough is not as easy to work with as dough made with super hot water. If it’s too hot though, you might burn yourself and you might end up with some scrambled eggs!
NEXT: While waiting for the water to cool down, in a large bowl, hand mix together 2 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Make a well in the center and drop in one egg. Roughly mix the egg in with a fork or with your hand until somewhat evenly distributed.
Pour the hot water over the flour.
Immediately mix the water into the flour mixture with your hand.
Mix until fully incorporated and knead until a dough ball forms.
Knead the dough in the bowl and then on a countertop until the dough is smooth and elastic. This takes about 5 minutes.
Cover the dough with a bowl on the counter. Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 10-20 minutes before rolling out and filling. If you are not planning to make pierogi immediately or within an hour or so, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place in a Ziploc bag and place the dough in the refrigerator until needed, up to 3 days. You should bring the dough back to room temperature before rolling it out. It’s best to work with when fresh though.
Next: How to roll out, fill, seal, and cook pierogi:
Bring a large, 8 quart stockpot of water to a boil (fill about 3/4 of pot with water). Add salt, around 1 1/2 teaspoons or to taste (similar to cooking pasta) and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil or other vegetable oil. Reduce the heat so that the water is at a low boil. [This part is the same whether you are using the recipe as is or doubling it.]
At the same time you are working on the pot of water, work on making your pierogi. Cut off 1/3 of the dough. Cover the remainder with an upside down bowl to prevent the remaining dough from drying out or forming a crust. Flour the board (or counter) and a rolling pin. Lightly flour the dough ball too.
Roll out the dough until thin, just about 1/8 of an inch/3 mm. Below is a photo of me beginning to roll out the dough.
Rolling out the dough is not as easy as it sounds. What I find is that I have to roll out the dough as far as it will stretch, and then I need to flip it over and roll it again. I might need to repeat this process a few times before the dough is thin enough. The thickness should be just short of 1/8 of an inch (about 3mm). You want it as thin as possible but not too thin that you can’t fill the dough pocket without the filling bursting through the dough while you make them or in the boiling water while the pierogi are cooking.
The dough below has been fully rolled out.
Cut out circles with a wide drinking glass or cup, 3 1/4 inches (8.25 cm) in diameter. With one batch of rolled-out dough, I usually make about 8-10 circles.
Remove the dough scraps from around the circles and add them back to the rest of the dough that is resting under the bowl. Unpeel all the circles from the board and turn them over. (This step is not essential, but might make sealing the pierogi easier.) Place about 1 tablespoon of desired filling in the center of each circle, either one at a time while holding a dough circle in your hand or on all circles at once while the circles are still sitting on the board. For this demonstration, I’m using a simple filling of plain, cooked buckwheat groats. They taste better in pierogi!
With a dough circle in your hand topped with filling, fold one side over the filling until the two edges meet. You may need to stretch the dough over the filling a little bit, and you may need to push down the filling with a free finger so that the edges remain free of filling before sealing.
Pinch the two edges together to seal. Again, make sure the edges are free from any filling or you won’t be able to seal the pierogi effectively, and the filling may burst out while cooking.
Pinch up and down the edge again to make sure the pierogi will not burst open while cooking.
Place the filled pierogi on a floured board or kitchen towel and loosely cover with a floured kitchen towel. Uncooked pierogi should not touch each other or they may stick together.
Repeat the rolling out, filling, and sealing steps one more time before cooking your first batch of pierogi. I suggest cooking around 18 pierogi at a time.
In the following photos, I would like to show you a couple of other fillings. Below is a batch of meat filling made from roasted chicken breasts that I made into a paste in a food processor, along with caramelized onions, some buckwheat groats, salt, pepper, and fresh Italian parsley.
I used a heaping tablespoon of filling for the pierogi.
I pinched the edges a little differently for this batch. I folded over the pinched edge in a few places and pinched those spots to ensure a better seal. I think they look fancier this way.
And here is a filling made with farmer’s cheese mixed with chopped apple, raisins, cinnamon, and a touch of sugar.
COOKING THE PIEROGI:
To cook the pierogi, drop them, one at a time, down the side of the pot and into boiling water.
Do not add too many pierogi into the pot at once. I think 18-20 is the most you should put into the pot for one batch. Once you drop them in, they will sink to the bottom. As they cook, they float to the top. However, you should still stir the ones at the bottom a couple of times before they float up. Sometimes, they stick to the bottom of the pot so stirring will help prevent that from happening.
Once the pierogi float to the top, cook them 3 minutes more. When fully cooked, carefully lift a few pierogi with large slotted spoon out of the pot of boiling water and transfer them to a colander or strainer set over a bowl to let the water drain.
Transfer drained pierogi to a warm skillet with melted butter and coat them with butter. Or you can do what I did here, which was transfer them to a serving (or storage) bowl where I drizzled them with some olive oil.
Repeat this process until you’ve fished all the pierogi out of the pot. Cover the skillet or bowl before moving on to prepare the next batch of pierogis. If you have transferred the pierogi to a bowl, loosely cover the bowl with foil or an upside down plate. Add new batches of cooked pierogi to the bowl (or skillet) and be sure they are coated with some oil or butter.
Serve cooked pierogi immediately. They can be served plain (though coated in melted butter or olive oil) or with sautéed chopped onions, or both sautéed chopped onions and crispy chopped bacon. Before serving, you also might want to lightly brown/fry the pierogi in a skillet with some oil or melted butter. Personally, I like them tossed in melted butter or oil when freshly cooked and then like them fried on the skillet when reheating leftovers.
If you want to save the pierogi to eat later, let them cool to room temperature before storing them in the refrigerator. You can also freeze your cooked pierogi. Place them on a large piece of plastic wrap in one layer, cover with plastic wrap, and place them in a Ziploc gallon freezer bag and freeze.
Below is a photo of a batch of special mushroom-filled pierogi, called “uszka,” that I was cooking for Christmas Eve “Wigilia” supper.
All versions are simply delicious!