I was so excited to dive into the Guyanese pepperpot recipe inspired by another chef featured in The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph, an Austin-based restauranteur and pasty chef, is an innovator in every sense of the word.
From lending his creative direction to five successful restaurants (all of which he co-owns!), to coming up with wildly creative desserts that are featured on said restaurants’ menus—Mr. Bristol-Joseph is a force to be reckoned with. His contributions were officially recognized this year when he was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs.
While Chef Tavel is now established in the American food scene, he continues to be inspired by the training and flavors he encountered in his native Guyana. Guyana, an English-speaking South American nation north of Brazil, is filled with cultural fusion. The country, a former British colony, is often referred to as “the land of six peoples.” This is because it is comprised of descendants of enslaved Africans, East Indian and Portuguese indentured servants, Chinese immigrants, other Europeans, and Amerindians.
Guyana’s national dish, a braised stew known as pepperpot, is a contribution from the indigenous population. While the dish was originally reserved for special occasions such as Christmas due to its extensive cook time, it is now popular as an everyday meal. It is typically served with a traditional bread known as plait bread. Click here for an authentic recipe from Afro-Guyanese blogger Jehan Can Cook. I know that I plan to make this bread the next time I make pepperpot, and BELIEVE me, there will be a next time.
Guyanese Pepperpot with Rice and Peas (p. 51)
Note: I left out the dumplings because I am personally not a fan of the texture.
I was happy to note that most of the ingredients this recipe called for were already in my pantry: onions, garlic, ginger, Roma tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper, rice. This is likely because these ingredients are also popular in the Ghanaian dishes that I make frequently, an illustration of the culinary connections found across the Diaspora. I did have to make a special trip for the coconut milk, as it is not something that I typically use.
I started by seasoning and searing my oxtails, and then getting them braising in the gravy. While I love oxtails, I am used to making them in the soul food or Jamaican way, with lots of spice or curry. However, the Guyanese pepperpot mixture is a little on the sweeter side. The Rise recipe called for the addition of a healthy amount of brown sugar, which I believe is meant to stand in for the more traditional cassareep, a molasses-like sauce derived from cassava root.
Fear not though, as the finished product was not sweet in an off-putting way. Rather, it was sticky and addictive, almost like a Caribbean BBQ sauce. I served it with rice and peas, which is red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk. Please note that I used the wrong beans! I bought red beans instead of red kidney beans (*face palm*).
I like to cook my rice with a paper towel beneath the top (a little trick I learned from my aunt). It helps bring out the moisture and steam the rice, which keeps it from getting mushy. I’m no pro at this dish, but I loved the creamy richness the coconut milk gave the rice.
As I sat down to eat after letting the oxtails braise for nearly 4 hours (mine were not falling off the bone tender at the 2.5 hour cook time called for by the recipe), the smells alone were intoxicating. The Guyanese pepperpot was sooo good. The rice was a good base for sopping up all the delicious gravy, but I can’t wait to try it the traditional way with bread.
What is your favorite way to make oxtails? Please comment below.
Music to Cook By: Sean Paul’s “I’m Still in Love With You” got me into the Caribbean mood.