It’s always a good day when you can cross something off your bucket list, and last Wednesday, I got to check off, “learn to make sheep tongue souse.”
Souse (rhymes with house) is essentially meat cooked in a clear broth, flavoured with onion, lime juice, all spice, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Though “souse” as a pickling/preservation method dates back to medieval times, the souse we know in the Bahamas and Caribbean originated during the era of slavery.
On plantations, when animals were slaughtered, the least desirable parts — chicken wings, pigs’ feet, sheep tongue, etc. — were left for the slaves. Using the simple ingredients and seasonings available to them, they created a fulfilling and flavourful meal that stretched these few bits of meat to feed many.
Despite its modest beginnings, Bahamian souse tends to be a special occasion dish, served on weekends and holidays. As a child, I remember eating mostly chicken souse. But in recent years, I discovered sheep tongue souse, and was hooked.
The texture of the meat isn’t at all what you might expect. It’s smooth and tender, and to me, it gives a richer and more complex flavour to the broth than does chicken.
I’m told that fresh sheep tongue isn’t easy to clean and prepare, but thankfully, Maxwell’s in Marsh Harbour now sells tongue that’s already cleaned and diced.
Turns out the hardest part of making sheep tongue souse is finding a recipe. As I’ve mentioned before, few Bahamian cooks use recipes. Most operate by taste and feel. Although several people gave me the list of what ingredients to put in, nobody could give me exact measurements. Even the Internet wasn’t a whole lot of help. Fortunately, I finally noticed there was a recipe included on the back of the sheep tongue packaging.
Using that as a starting point, and tweaking it a bit, here’s the final recipe I came up with:
Bahamian Sheep Tongue Souse
3 lbs sheep tongue (cleaned and diced)
1 large onion, sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 fresh-squeezed limes (juice of)
1 hot pepper (I couldn’t find one, so I just used a couple of sprinkles of red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon whole all spice
3-4 bay leaves
4 cups water
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, combine water, sheep tongue, onion, all spice and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
Add potatoes, carrots, lime juice, black pepper, hot pepper/pepper flakes and a half-teaspoon or so of salt.
Return to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes and carrots are cooked. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and lime juice as desired.
And that’s it! The above recipe yields 4-6 generous servings.
Traditionally, souse is served with extra lime juice and hot pepper on the side, and accompanied by grits, fresh-baked bread or johnny cake. (I’m working on finding an authentic johnny cake recipe – stay tuned!)