Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Pepperpot at a Glance

There are two types of pepperpot in the Caribbean. First, there is pepperpot in Guyana, a rich meat stew that is made with cassareep (a syrup made from juice extracted from the bitter cassava) and simmered with seasonings until it has the color and consistency of molasses. This, however, is not to be confused with pepperpot in Jamaica, a dish with West African roots, which is a delicious and highly nutritious green soup made with callaloo, coconut milk, and salted pork and beef. A simple and wholesome meal, Jamaican pepperpot is a classic one-pot dish that is meant to be shared among many.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

In our version of Jamaican pepperpot, we use a combination of pickled pig tail, cured salt beef, and beef chuck to add an irreplaceable layer of salty, smokey, meaty flavor in the soup, before adding a coarsely pureed green mixture of Callaloo and coco heart. Callaloo is a Caribbean term for leafy greens, often amaranth, but it can refer to different plants. Coco heart refers to the heart-shaped leaves of the taro (dasheen) plant. Yam, coco (taro root), and okra add sustenance to the soup. Typical seasonings like scallion, garlic, thyme, and Scotch bonnet enhance flavor, while little flour dumplings called “spinners” and coconut milk finish the hearty dish.

A Link To History

Pepperpot was such a popular dish that by the late 18th century, it had become well-known beyond Jamaica in the American colonies (particularly in Philadelphia, where a wealth of west Indian migration had taken place.) There is even a recipe for West Indian pepperpot in the New Art of Cookery published in Philadelphia in 1792. This recipe is quite similar to the Jamaican version of pepperpot and calls for a mixture of different meats, vegetables, and greens, along with dumplings made of flour and water. Beyond these staples, this version includes allspice, cloves, and mace, and is seasoned to be very spicy with cayenne pepper. As the name pepperpot indicates, it was traditionally a dish that should bring fire to the mouth. 

For us, pepperpot is a perfect example of the crossroads and linkages of pan-African culture throughout the world. Dishes, ingredients, flavors, and techniques moved with the people who cooked them, which is why so many of our most popular Jamaican ingredients and dishes have such strong similarities to American soul food.

Perfect for Entertaining

Jamaican soups are always rich, nourishing, and filling, and make for an affordable, easy, and laid-back way to entertain, especially on the weekends. In Jamaica, we have a weekly tradition called Saturday Soup, which is a kind of impromptu open house. The host typically makes a big pot or two of traditional soup and tells friends and family to drop in at some point in the day for an early or late lunch. Pepperpot, along with classics like red pea soup and pumpkin soup, is a regular on Saturday Soup menus.

Once made, the soup stays hot on the stove and is served directly from the kitchen with thick, moist slabs of well-buttered hardo bread, liberal splashes of Pickapeppa-brand pepper sauce or homemade pepper sauce, and copious glasses of rum punch. These gatherings always run into the late afternoon or early evening and are accompanied by lots of noise, laughter, and good humored debate about island life—there is truly nothing more quintessentially Jamaican than this.

For the Soup: Place pig tail and cured salt beef in a large bowl and cover with ample cold water. Cover, transfer to refrigerator, and let soak for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours. Drain and rinse.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, combine pickled pig tail, cured salt beef, and beef chuck, (if using). Cover meat with 3 1/2 quarts (910g) cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer (adjusting heat as needed to maintain simmer) until meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Meanwhile, cut any woody stems from callaloo leaves and separate leaves from stalks; discard stalks. Transfer leaves to a medium bowl, add 1 teaspoon salt, then fill bowl with cold water and stir vigorously to wash well of all debris or sand. Drain well, then repeat rinsing steps if needed until water is clear. 

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Once meat is tender, add callaloo and coco heart to Dutch oven and simmer until greens are wilted and tender, about 15 minutes. Using a spider skimmer or slotted spoon, remove cooked callaloo and coco heart and transfer to a blender jar along with 1 cup (237 ml) cooking liquid. Pulse mixture in blender to a coarse (but not fully smooth) puree. Set aside.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Add yam, coco, okra, and green pepper to Dutch oven and continue to simmer, adjusting heat as needed.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

For the Spinners (Dumplings): Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour and a large pinch of salt. Add 1/2 cup (118ml) cold water and knead until a dough ball forms. Let rest 15 minutes. Tear off small pieces of dough and roll into cigarette-sized strips. Stir shaped spinners (dumplings) into Dutch oven with Scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, thyme, and garlic. Return to simmer.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Once simmering, add pureed greens to Dutch oven and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and cook until warmed through and soup has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in janga or shrimp, if using, and simmer until opaque and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season pepperpot with salt and pepper to taste.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

For Serving: Remove Scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, and thyme sprigs. Serve pepperpot with buttered sliced hardo bread, coco bread, or thin cassava wafers (which can be found in Caribbean grocery stores), and Pickapeppa sauce.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Special Equipment

Large stock pot or Dutch oven with lid, blender

Notes

A pressure cooker may be used in place of the Dutch oven in this recipe. If using a pressure cooker, in Step 2, cover pot, bring to high pressure, and cook under pressure for 30 minutes. Carefully release pressure, and continue with Step 3.

Cured salt beef, is a corned beef–like product sold in Jamaican and Caribbean markets, as are salt pork and salted pig tail.

Callaloo is a Caribbean term for some types of leafy greens, but it can refer to different plants depending on the context. In Jamaica, amaranth leaves are often used, but taro (dasheen) leaves can also work. In a pinch, you can substitute kale or collard greens as well.

Coco heart are the heart-shaped leaves of the coco (taro) plant.

Coco is the Jamaican name for taro root. You can also use eddoes, a relative of taro. 

Yellow yams are available at Caribbean and some African grocers. To cut yellow yams, rinse well under running water to remove any dirt. Rub 1 teaspoon oil on hands (to form a light protective barrier from the slimy yam flesh) and peel. Immediately transfer to a bowl of salted cold water to prevent oxidation. Working with one yam at a time, dice, then return to salted water until ready to use.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Pepperpot can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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