One of the main reasons for writing this blog is to share my food-related heritage, and Souse (or Sao, as we usually call it) is part of it. I loved it when I was young (er) and to me it is tied to late nights, music and laughter, because I solely ate sao in parties…I can’t recall my mother ever making it at home.
This dish became part of the Panamanian cuisine thanks to the Jamaican men that were recruited as workers for the construction of the Panama railroad since the early 1850’s. Their wives and descendants introduced us to a whole new world of flavors and ways of cooking that truly enriched our culture.
Souse is a type of pickle made by fully cooking the meat and then marinating it for a long time in a solution made of fresh lime or lemon juice, vinegar, salt, minced hot pepper, onions and cucumbers.
Souse can be made out of various parts of a pig, cow and chicken. Pork Souse is made with the ears, feet, knuckles and shoulder of a pig. Beef Souse is made with the heel of the cow and the face which becomes gelatinous when cooked. And chicken-foot Souse is made with the feet of the chicken.
The version with which I’m familiar is the one made with pork feet, here’s the recipe.
- 1 kg of pork feet
- 1 cup of cooking juice
- 1 cup lemon or lime juice
- ¼ cup wine vinegar
- Hot peppers chopped to taste*
- 2 cups onions sliced
- ½ cup water
- 4 cups cucumbers sliced
Wash the feet and remove all the hairs on it (I know this sounds a bit disagreeable, but is a necessary step. The ones I bought were already cleaned and vacuum-packed, so that was a relief …)
To cook the feet we have to put them in a big pot with slightly salted water, bring to a boil and let them boil for 10 minutes, and then change the water and boil again in clean salted water for another 10 minutes, after that time, change the water again and cook in boiling water until soft. That will be like 45 minutes or so (or 20 minutes on a pressure cooker). Drain and save 1 cup for the marinade.
In a big salad bowl, pour water, cooking juice, onions, cucumbers, lemon juice, vinegar, hot pepper and the pork feet. Stir well and allow it to marinate for at least 4 hours (more or less) before serving.
To avoid curdling of the sauce, is best to serve it at room temperature, because souse is served along with some of the juice, onions and cucumbers.
*Hot peppers: In Panama we use a kind of pepper called “ají chombo”, a variety of chili pepper also known as Scotch Bonnet. I didn’t have any, so I used “guindillas”. I guess that’s why my sao wasn’t as good as the one from Panama…Or maybe is just because I wasn’t there!