Weeknight Wonder: Pan-Fried Pierogi and Kielbasa
Short on time? Cook frozen potato dumplings with sausage and caramelized onions for your favorite new one-skillet meal.
Weeknight Pan-Fried Pierogi and Kielbasa; photograph by Olga Ivanova
Staring into the fridge at the end of a long day, wondering yet again what to make for dinner, can feel like a bleak Sisyphean feat — especially when you’re hungry and the troops are getting hangry. And on a hectic evening the idea of spending an hour carefully stirring a risotto, or washing and chopping seven different vegetables for a salad, or standing over the sink shelling and deveining a pound of shrimp can bring tears to the eyes … and not because of an onion.
What would truly help is a simple, delicious meal that takes very little prep, cooks up fast, and is a genuine pleasure to eat. Because you can only eat pasta with sauce from a jar so many times in a week.
Enter the frozen pierogi, for a change of pace and easy preparation. And the pierogi might be one of the most comforting foods: A stretchy, tangy, sour cream-laced dough is shaped into half-moon dumplings that embrace a variety of fillings, sometimes savory and sometimes sweet. The most common kind you’ll find in the freezer aisle boasts mashed potatoes mixed with cheese, slow-cooked onions, or even sauerkraut.
Foods that envelop and protect other foods seem like proof of an advanced cuisine to me, and in most cultures tend to be a treasured dish. Think: ravioli, pot stickers, empanadas, and pot pies. But pierogi deserve the crown: Everyone loves them, and cooking frozen pierogi — especially in this recipe — is ridiculously easy. Finding the box in the freezer might be the hardest part.
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What’s great about this recipe
This recipe with pierogi works as well (and as quickly) as it does for three reasons:
The onions get cooked for a long time (especially for such a short recipe!) and they begin to break down as they release their moisture and the flavor intensifies. The natural sugars caramelize and their sharpness softens.
Kielbasa sausage comes already cooked, so you’re simply heating it through and crisping it up. Tossing it in before adding the pierogi ensures the pan is well-greased, and adds a meaty flavor to the entire dish, fast.
Pan-frying frozen pierogi (whether in a non-stick wok or frying pan) cooks them through nicely; instead of absorbing boiling water (pierogi are typically boiled in water), the pierogi dough takes in the moisture and flavor of the onions. The pierogi don’t get soggy and they’re way more delicious, with a home-cooked quality that can be hard to find in a frozen food. By the time you serve them, they’re nicely browned and chewy-crisp. Pyszne! (Delicious!)
Frozen pierogi, onion, and kielbasa sausage are the star ingredients in this quick dinner. Check out the ingredient advice below, plus a suggestion for vegetarians.
Store-bought frozen pierogi
Can I really throw frozen pierogi in a pan? Don’t I have to boil them first?
Yes, you can cook pierogi directly from the freezer! And no, you don’t have to boil them first. This recipe using pierogi calls for frozen ones with potato fillings and was tested with several brands, including one that said the pierogi must be boiled first. I sautéed them in the wok with the softened onions and kielbasa, adding a bit of water and covering them briefly with the lid to expedite the cooking, and they came out perfectly cooked through and just a bit crisp on the edges. Cooking frozen pierogi straight from the freezer works well in this easy recipe.
What kind of onion is best in recipes using pierogi?
Yellow onions were used in developing this dish, but you could use white, brown, or sweet onions — any large onion you have on hand could work. While red onions bring a satisfying note of sweetness, they are full of pigments called anthocyanins that can turn them a funky blue-purple shade that some diners find odd. Prolonged cooking turns them quite dark and a bit sticky, but if that’s what you have on hand they’ll still make a pleasant dish.
What is kielbasa, exactly?
“Kielbasa” is actually the Polish word for “sausage,” and is a treasured part of the national cuisine, but in the U.S. it has come to mean a U-shaped smoked Polish sausage usually made of pork, or pork and beef, that can be flavored with garlic, marjoram, pepper, and juniper. There are some delicious turkey versions available, too.
Fun fact to know and tell: The Polish government has an official kielbasa recipe it approved in 1959, while still under communist rule! Kielbasa is serious business in Polish cuisine.
But I’m a vegetarian!
If you have a veggie sausage you love, this becomes a super quick vegetarian meal that will even impress your most pouty omnivore friends.
Are pierogi even an American food?
No one agrees on where pierogi began; it’s possible Marco Polo brought dumplings back to Italy from China, and the idea then spread across Central and Eastern Europe. But only Poland got its own patron saint of pierogi in the 1200s, Saint Hyacinth, who brought this nationally treasured dish to hungry farmers whose crops had failed.
Pierogi made their big debut in the United States prior to the start of World War I, when about 2.5 million Polish immigrants came to America’s shores. Many of those families settled in Pittsburgh, which is still arguably our unofficial pierogi capital today. So while pierogi didn’t start here, like any immigrant they’ve become part of our national fabric; between annual pierogi festivals (check out this one or this one) and Polish restaurants across the country, it’s not surprising that “recipes using pierogi” is such a popular search phrase on Google!
Tips to save time
This recipe is already fast. But if you want to shave off even more time and have dinner on the table in a jiffy, here are two tips.
Tip #1: Skip slicing the kielbasa ahead of time
While the French cooking principle of mise en place — having all ingredients prepped and ready before the cooking begins — is usually the most efficient approach to cooking, there is a shortcut you can take: Wait until the onions are in the pan to start slicing the kielbasa; as long as you remember to stir the onions occasionally, this can save a few minutes of prep.
Tip #2: Purchase pre-sliced onions
If you’re truly pressed for time, a quick stop at the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store for pre-sliced onions in a bag, or at a salad bar to pick up 3 cups of thinly sliced onions saves effort and potential tears … though you may still weep tears of joy when you sit down to eat less than 40 minutes later.
How to scale the recipe up or down
If you’re not cooking for four, as this recipe is designed, and need a flexible recipe, today is your lucky day: This frozen pierogi recipe is incredibly easy to modify. Per person, plan on cooking ¾ cup of sliced onion, four pierogi, and a quarter of a kielbasa sausage. It’s that simple.
If you prepare this dish for fewer people, the cooking time for the onion can be decreased by a few minutes, but the rest of the timing should remain the same.
If you’re cooking for a crowd, increase the timing by a few minutes in each step to ensure each element is cooked properly. And be sure to use a larger pan so there is sufficient room for all of the pierogi and kielbasa slices to brown.
Without further ado …
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More weeknight dinner ideas
Learn to make the best grilled cheese, a fabulous make-ahead lasagna, or one of the many other easy, weeknight recipes in the Yummly articles below.