Unlike its cousin the pepperpot, souse does not seem to have spread across the islands of the Caribbean and over into the Atlantic basin. It appears seldom to have broken out of its Barbadian beachhead, although Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz notes that people on St. Kitts, originally settled by the English three years before Barbados, in 1624, eat souse but without the pudding that is essential there.
Souse, in competition perhaps with Privilege, remains the national dish of Barbados, traditional Saturday night food to serve with a pudding made from either sweet potato or blood, or both. It is inauthentic to eat the souse, as opposed to pudding, any way but cold. As an aside, the pairing of pudding and souse must be one of the happiest in the history of food.
This is versatile, the kind of dish that Austin Clarke considers Slave Food, and there are as many variations as there are people who cook it. Use what you have, up to a point, for you must have some kind of pork, some chilies, some cucumber (what could be more British than cucumber?) and limes. Everyone, except for the British in 1940, has onions, so this is a dish that none of us has any excuse not to try.
Bajan souse represents a kind of deconstructed British brawn or head cheese adapted to the tropics. It therefore is altogether fitting that the dish is Barbados’ own. Authentic recipes include ingredients readily available to Caribbean cooks but consigned, foolishly, to the dogfood factory in most of the United States, along, alas, with most of the kidneys taken from calves, lambs and pigs. Tongue, fresh and cured, salted pigtails and pickled pork feature in lots of recipes for souse; a pig’s head is Old School, but good recipes also use shoulder instead. The offcuts are wonderful ingredients and we, the affluent, are the poorer without them. Even without them, however, we can construct a tasty and reasonably authentic souse with foodstuffs available from the most mainstream supermarket. For four with pudding. The recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled....
-2 pig’s trotters split lengthwise and sawed into I ½ wide hunks or about ½ lb pickled pork roughly chopped (see the Notes) and either ½ cup jellied pork stock or a packet of gelatin
-2 lb pork shoulder cut into 1 inch chunks
-2 seeded and chopped hot chilies
-2 onions split and sliced into thin crescents
-6 or so whole allspice berries
-3 bay leaves
-about 10 whole black peppercorns
-about 1 ½ cups peeled, seeded and cubed or shredded cucumber
- If using trotters, simmer them until tender, even disintegrating, for about 1 ½ hours in just enough salted water to cover along with half of the chili and onion, the allspice, bay and peppercorns, then add the pork and simmer until it in turn is tender too, for about 30 minutes.
- If not using trotters, simmer everything else in Step 1 for 35-40 minutes in the jellied pork stock instead of water along with the pickled pork. If you do not have any stock, use water and the gelatin packet instead.
- Add the remaining ingredients, including the rest of the chili and onion--it is traditional to use a lot of salt, for this is a mild pickle--and refrigerate overnight before serving with Bajan pudding.
Bajan pudding originally was a form of rustic sausage encased in casings and simmered; some people still go whole hog to make it that way, but even Bajans themselves usually use a British ceramic pudding basin and steam it like a true pudding instead. A basin is safer as well as simpler; the pudding links cannot burst into the liquid and ruination. The recipe may be doubled.
-about 1½ lb peeled and grated sweet potato
-a seeded and minced hot chili or ½ teaspoon cayenne
-8 minced chives or 3 minced scallion tops (greens only)
-scant ¼ teaspoon powdered clove
-1 teaspoon dried marjoram
-1 teaspoon thyme
-1 generous teaspoon salt
-½ teaspoon black pepper
Optional but recommended: either ½ cup pork blood or 1 oz ‘browning’ (see the Notes)
-about ¾ cup pork or chicken stock (less if you use blood)
- Puree the vegetables, herbs and seasonings in a processor.
- Add the blood or browning if you are using one of them; if not, go to Step 3.
- Dribble the stock into the puree and pulse it in the processor until the pudding has a smooth consistency. Do not let it get too watery.
- Spoon the pudding into a basin; if you do not have one, use a heatproof bowl, tie a greaser and pleated sheet of aluminum foil over the top and boil the pudding for an hour.
- Serve hot with cold souse.
- If you want to go postal on the subject of authenticity and can get half a pig’s head, substitute it for the pork shoulder and simmer it with the trotters in Step 1; you may or may not need a little more time. Then peel and chop the meat, including the tongue if you have it, before adding it to the pot for Step 3.
- Pork ribs are an appropriate alternative to shoulder too; treat them just like the shoulder.
- Many Barbadian cooks add some cooked tongue to the pot with the pickling elements after cooking the pork; the Editor has a hard time finding fresh tongue, but has used a can of cured ox tongue when she can find that; the product form Marks & Spencer is good.
- The name ‘souse’ quite obviously refers to the ancient English practice of sousing, or pickling, fish or meat with vinegar and salt. The lime has a fresher acid than the vinegar but it is acid, and sousing, nonetheless.
- The use of marjoram and thyme is characteristically English; if you prefer fresh herbs use at least twice as much.
- The inclusion of allspice, bay and peppercorns in the souse is not strictly authentic but all of them are bedrock Caribbean seasonings and the Editor likes them.
- Pickled pork is a staple flavoring in New Orleans that is available online from www.cajungrocer.com. You also could substitute a little diced salt pork in a pinch.
- Souse makes a nice starter too, with some crusty bread or even a few crackers.
- There is no getting past the fact that souse is a visually ugly dish. Do not be deterred.
- To make browning, used by Bajan cooks to enhance lots of other savory dishes as well as pudding, cook a cup of sugar with a scant 2 teaspoons of neutral oil until it turns dark, dark brown, then remove it from the heat before slowly and carefully dribbling ¼ cup water or stock into the sugar. When the browning ceases to spatter, stir it and store it in a cool place. Browning need not be refrigerated.
- Pudding if not souse appears around the Caribbean in various guises. According to LaurelAnn Morley in Caribbean Recipes ‘Old & New,’ the variable is sweet potato. Cooked rice replaces it in Guyana (like a Cajun boudin!); bread in Trinidad; other islands use cassava or farina.
- Bajan folklore holds that silence must reign in the kitchen when simmering puddings in casing or they will burst; more incentive to use a basin unless you have taken the vow of silence.
- Ms. Morley adds a dose of sugar to her pudding, a decidedly Caribbean move that we find makes it a little sweet for our palates up here in the northeastern United States.
- Storebought black pudding, whether British, French, ‘Irish’ or Spanish in the guise of morcilla, are neither strictly authentic to Barbados nor in the least bit bad with souse. For that matter white pudding is equally good.
- It probably will send us to least to culinary limbo if not purgatory or hell to admit it, but we think canned pumpkin makes good ‘Bajan’ pudding too and saves a lot of time.