Kiełbasa is a Polish word for traditional Polish Sausage. The word has become a commonly used North American term for Eastern European styles of sausage, including Ukrainian sausage, which is called kovbasa or kubasa.
Sausage is a staple of Polish cuisine and comes in dozens of varieties, smoked or fresh, but almost always based on pork (although in many areas, it is available in beef, and sometimes in turkey, horse, lamb, veal, or bison), every region having its own speciality. Popular varieties include:
- Kabonosy, a thin, air-dried sausage flavoured with caraway seed, originally made of horse meat (but today usually pork or turkey)
- Krakowska, a thick, straight sausage hot-smoked with pepper and garlic; its name comes from Kraków
- Wiejska (pronounced in Polish /ˈvʲejska/), a large U-shaped pork and veal sausage with marjoram and garlic; its name means "rural" or (an adjectival use of) "country", or (adjectival use of) "village".
In the U.S., "kielbasa" almost always means some form of wiejska (although often not U-shaped and seldom containing veal), which may be unsmoked ("fresh") or fully or partly smoked. Similar sausages are found in other Slavic nations as well, notably the Czech Republic (spelled "klobása") and Slovakia (spelled "klobása"). In Ukraine "kovbasa" is properly pronounced /kovbɑsɑ/, but in English is usually pronounced /ˈkʌbɑsɑ/.
Original kielbasa is also called "Polska kiełbasa" for "Polish Sausage" or "Kielbasa Starowiejska" known as "Old Country Style Sausage". This one comes closest to what is generally known in America as "kielbasa" (Polish sausage, Polska Kiełbasa). Nowadays, many major meat packers across America offer a product called "kielbasa," but it is usually a far cry from the real thing.
Real kielbasa uses only the choicest cuts of tender pork, and often a little beef or veal is added to improve its body and character. The sausage is seasoned with fresh herbs and spices and then gently smoked, just long enough to achieve the right color, flavor and aroma. It is good for breakfast or supper as a cold cut with horseradish or mustard.
In Poland, kielbasa is traditionally served with fried onions, red horseradish (which is blended with beets), and - in form of small pieces, fried together with onions - as an addition to pierogi, which are crescent-shaped dumplings filled with potato, cheese or mushrooms. Kielbasa can be served hot — boiled, baked or grilled. It can be cooked in soups (such as biały barszcz, kapuśniak, or grochówka), baked with sauerkraut, or added to bean dishes, stews (notably bigos, the Polish national dish), and casseroles.
A less widely available variety of kielbasa is the White Fresh (biała), which is sold uncooked and unsmoked, then usually boiled or cooked in a soup in place of a typical meat. This variety of kielbasa taste similar to mild Italian sausage.