This one didn’t go the way I had originally hoped. Barbados is known best for preparing one very unique item – battered and fried members of the family of Exocoetidae, or flying fish. I spent over three months hunting around the Tri-State area for these critters, to no avail whatsoever. I called every single high-end fish market from Citarella to The Lobster Place; I checked with several distributors at the legendary Fulton Fish Market; I scoured Chinatown’s darkest corners and most terrifying freezers; I even went so far as to attempt to buy some whole flying fish directly from Bajan restaurants in Brooklyn, but was informed, sadly, that their flying fish come to the U.S. already fileted and breaded. These fish are simply unavailable here (at least right now), possibly because they are in the paradoxical situation of being vastly over-fished, and yet still considered pests to boaters and fishermen in the Caribbean. In any case, I wasn’t getting any. Period.
As I stated at the very beginning of this blog, I will not make substitutions in my recipes. If I cannot find a key ingredient, I will not make the dish, simple as that. This means, then, that I will sometimes have to dig a little deeper to find a traditional dish that can be made with the ingredients I can locate (and trust me, I try VERY hard to find them). This also means that sometimes, instead of delectable fried fish, I have to eat pickled pig parts.
Pudding & souse, as this dish is called, consists of two parts – the “souse”, a chewy, acidic pickle of the throwaway parts of a pig (think pork ceviche), and the “pudding”, which is a sausage made from batata, burnt sugar and pig intestines. It’s meant to be eaten on Saturdays alongside a cold beer, and may represent the result of centuries of British rule – both in nomenclature (“pudding” = “sausage”) and in style (this is essentially a version of blood pudding that does not rely on the luxury of pig’s blood). Land for livestock is understandably scarce on this small island, but those starchy tubers grow plentifully and make a filling substitute.
The first thing I had to reluctantly do was boil the ever-loving hell out of some pig ears, tails and feet. The ears are chewy, with a snappy layer of cartilage on the middle, while the tail and feet are like big knuckles, boney and gelatinous. Once they are boiled to tenderness, they are drained and cooled. The meat is picked from the bones, and is packed in a jar with grated cucumber, onion, habanero pepper, and a ton of lime juice. I let this sit for a night in the fridge to allow the pickling liquid to penetrate the skin and fat, and perhaps make this underwhelming dish a little more gastronomically desirable.
The next day I got to work on the pudding, which involved tossing grated batata, grated onion, habanero and a West Indian ingredient known as “browning” – basically a deep-brown burnt-sugar syrup – into the food processor and mixing it all into a mushy stuffing. While I worked, I soaked some natural sausage casings in water and lime juice:
So! Now, I had to get the wet stuffing into the sausage casings. Ummmm… huh.
I started working with a halfhearted little fingertip of stuffing, pushing it into the casing as far as I could. Most of it fell out, the casing split… this wasn’t happening. So I had a beer, sat, and thought for a minute. I recalled watching my grandfather, Salvatore, make fresh pork sausages on a big table in his garage. He had a crank-operated meat grinder, and would shimmy the casings onto the nozzle, bunching them all the way up. Then he would tie the end shut with string and slowly crank, releasing the casing as it filled with ground meat and spices. As he worked, he twisted the casings every few inches to separate the individual sausages. Surely I could find a way to mimic this age-old process…
My way is strictly analog, no crank-operated machinery – I bunched the casing onto a funnel, loaded the funnel with stuffing and, using the back of a wooden spoon, jammed the stuffing through the nozzle and into sausage-shaped puddings. If I had to make more than a few of these I probably would have killed myself, but it worked for a small batch of these fellas.
A brief simmer in boiling water and there you have it: pudding & souse.
A few of my casings split open, so I lost some of the weaker puddings in a Darwinian moment of steamy inevitability. Also, the filling in my puddings looks a little coarser than in pictures I have seen of the same dish, so I wonder if the several recipes I’d excavated weren’t too vague. In any case (get it? case? casing? Ahhhh go to hell.) they mimic the cakey, crumbly texture of actual blood pudding, which is their direct inspiration.
Speaking strictly on the plane of flavor – and here I do my best to be kind – the souse is exactly as you’d expect, and that’s not to say it’s bad. It’s also not to say it’s good. It’s certainly unique, piquant and citrus-y, though the rubbery fattiness of the pork is a task to chew through. Maybe a longer pickle could help with this?
The puddings were semi-sweet, and much more bitter than I expected – this probably has to do with the enormous amount of starch in the batata, as well as the deeply caramelized sugars in the browning syrup. At the very least, the casings had a nice snap to them.
Every culture has that one (or more than one) dish that makes visitors cringe and locals smile from ear to ear. In Iceland, it’s fermented rotten shark. In China, it’s bird’s nest soup. And in Barbados, it’s pudding & souse.
Damn you, flying fish!
Now you go:
1 lb. of an assortment of pig ears, tails, snout or feet, washed and scrubbed
1 large cucumber, seeded and grated
3 bay leaves
2 habaneros, seeded and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt to taste (start with 1 tsp)
Boil pig parts in water until cooked through and pale. Skim any froth that forms on the top. Drain and cool in cold water. Pick meat from all parts, discarding bones (the tail can have the bone left in). Slice large chunks into bite-sized pieces
Mix all ingredients in a large jar. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold, with pudding and beer.
2 batatas, finely grated
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp powdered cloves
1 small onion, finely grated
1 habanero, seeded and minced
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp browning syrup
3 scallions, minced
1/4 lb. pig intestines, soaked in water and the juice of 1 lime for one hour
Place all ingredients except for intestines in a food processor. Pulse until as smooth as possible.
Load a casing onto the nozzle of a funnel or a manually-operated meat grinder. Tie one end of a casing closed with some kitchen twine. Proceed to slowly fill the casing, tying off individual puddings as you progress. Repeat until filling is used up.
Boil or steam until skins are tight and translucent. Serve with souse.