>> Monday, 21 December 2015
If at Christmas I have to choose between having Baked Ham and Pepperpot, hands down, I would choose Pepperpot. Christmas for me is Pepperpot; you can hold the ham, turkey, sorrel, ginger beer, cake and other holiday goodies, just gimme my Pepperpot with homemade bread.
Pepperpot is a famous Guyanese Christmas dish that originated with the country's Indigenous Peoples. The use of cassareep - a concentrated syrup made from the juice of grated cassava that has boiled for hours until it becomes very thick and black - is a key ingredient in the making of Pepperpot. The taste of cassareep is deliciously complex with hints of sweet, savoury and caramel. The preservative elements of cassareep is what facilitates Pepperpot being kept at room temperature for days and weeks, without spoilage, by being heated to a boil, twice daily. Rarely does homemade Pepperpot last for weeks, it is so darn good that in a week of being made it is almost done.
Guyanese Pepperpot should not be confused with Antigua & Barbuda's or Jamaica's pepperpot - both dishes are a type of spinach soup.
Here's why I love Pepperpot so very much.
When the large stock pot that sits atop my stove, heavy with meat, spices and cassareep, comes alive under the steady, bright flames, shimmering at first, and then breaking the surface with roaring bubbles, a sweet aroma erupts that envelopes the entire house. For me it marks the official start of the holidays.
Pepperpot is slow food, it takes time for the meats - cow-heel, pig trotters, beef (sometimes oxtail too) - to breakdown and become soft and succulent. The pot is on the stove for as little as 3 hours depending on the quantity being made. The most tortuous part is having to wait at least 24 - 48 hours before being able to dip into the Pepperpot. Once it is finished cooking, Pepperpot needs time for the flavours to really concentrate and meld.
The aroma emanating from the pot during the morning and evening ritual of heating the Pepperpot to a boil is equally inviting as the first day the Pepperpot is made. With each reheating, the Pepperpot not only ages but its taste surpasses that of the previous day. It truly gets better with age. The daily reheating/boiling of the Pepperpot results in the sauce becoming thicker and velvety, thanks to the gelatinous ingredients of cow-heel and pig trotters. The sauce is sweet and savoury, redolent with the spices and concentrated flavours of the cassareep.
Having invested the time and aromatic torture of the making of Pepperpot, it is imperative that the bread with which the Pepperpot will be eaten be of a high standard. For me, that means one thing - homemade bread. The bread should be soft but meaty and hearty. And when it comes to the physical act of eating the Pepperpot, it is about tearing off large pieces of the bread, this is rustic eating, there is no place here for uniformly sliced bread.
To eat, torn pieces of bread are used to mop up the sauce (the crusty ends and bottom crust are my favourites). I like to expose the sauce to as wide a surface area as possible of the bread so that the sauce can really be soaked up, becoming heavy. Another technique I use is to repeatedly pat pieces of the bread into the sauce, making them pregnant with sauce. And then the moment arrives - eating. The soft-sauced bread almost melts in your mouth. A few gentle chews and you're ready for the next piece of sauced bread. It's a process repeated until there is no more sauce on the plate.
I tend to eat my meat last, so once the bread and sauce are gone, I turn my attention to the meat - soft tendons and the bones! Oh. My. Goodness. I am a lover of bones, so imagine the pleasure of sucking repeatedly on bones, saturated with the Pepperpot sauce. Oh gosh, I LOVE Pepperpot!
When I'm done eating, my fingers are sweet and sticky - evidence that I thoroughly enjoyed my favourite Christmas dish - Pepperpot.
What's your favourite Christmas dish and how do you enjoy it?