Souse is one of those classic dishes that has been around since before Cajuns started living down there in Louisiana.
It’s basically a “head cheese” — which means it was traditionally made with pig heads (not just any old pigs).
The name comes from the French word for “head” or “skull” and the German word for “cheese.”
What Are The Ingredients In A Souse Recipe?
The main ingredient in a souse recipe is pork.
You can use ham instead if you want to keep things vegetarian.
Other common ingredients include onions, garlic, peppers, mustard seeds, allspice, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, and sugar.
Some recipes call for adding celery seed, thyme, sage, and other herbs and spices too, but these aren’t essential.
You also need plenty of water, vinegar, wine, or cider, and sometimes even lye (a caustic solution used primarily for cleaning items like copper pots) to help break down the meat into a paste.
That paste then gets cooked slowly until it becomes a thick jelly-like substance.
Some recipes call for rice flour, cornstarch, or potato starch to thicken the mixture so it doesn’t get runny when it cools off.
But this isn’t necessary.
If you don’t have any of these on hand, you can substitute some regular flour.
And lastly, the most important thing about making a good souse is patience.
Sous chefs spend many long hours cooking up batches of the stuff by the large stovetop kettle they have set up in their kitchen.
This takes time.
But once everything is done, the result will be worth every single hour.
How Do You Make Souse?
There are many recipes out there to help you prepare this delicious treat, but we recommend starting with the following basic formula:
- Pork fatback or bacon
You can use either fresh or frozen vegetables if they work better for your taste buds! If you want to go all-out, add some herbs like thyme and parsley, too.
If you have access to an oven, cooking it will take longer than doing it on stove top.
You may also need to cook it overnight.
But don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of time to enjoy the results after that!
What Is The History Of Souse?
In New Orleans, souse was originally made by slaves who were forced to work on plantations growing sugar cane.
They would take the leftovers from their meals — bones, skin, fat, blood, and whatever else they could get their hands on — grind them up into a paste, stuff this mixture inside a pig’s head, sew it back together again, then hang the whole thing outside in the sun so it dried out.
After a few days, the head would be ready to eat!
This type of food wasn’t eaten very often because it took a lot of time and effort to prepare.
But after slavery ended and people stopped working in fields, slave owners realized how much money they could save if they kept these leftover parts instead of having to buy new ones every day.
Sous chefs began making more use of the meat and bone scraps left over from other meals, including pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, etc.
The resulting concoction became known as souse, and today, it can still be found at many restaurants in town.
It can also be purchased online as frozen ingredients, or even fresh and raw.
Some say the best way to enjoy souse is as part of a meal, but in case you want to try making your own, here’s what you need to know about the process.
What Are Some Different Ways To Make Souse?
Traditional souse can be prepared in many ways.
You could use raw meat if you want a hot version, but most people prefer it chilled.
Some like it spicy, too!
Here are a few options on how to prepare your own homemade souse:
- Cured with brine, then boiled with vegetables: Brined overnight in salt water, then simmered until tender, this is known as a boudin blanc.
- Brined, then cooked with herbs and spices: A lot of chefs like to add fresh herbs, garlic, fennel seeds, peppercorns, etc., to their souses when they cook them up. They also enjoy using smoked meats instead of plain cured ones.
- Cooked with tomatoes: If you like tomato-based soups — such as gumbo — you may find that adding tomatoes into your souse will give it more flavor. Many cooks consider this method to be cheating because the tomatoes get all mushy during the cooking process without being properly incorporated into the broth.
- Spiced with vinegar: Vinegar is often used to help cure and season meats. When added at the end of the cooking process, the acidity balances the flavors of the other ingredients.
- Simmering in tomato sauce: You can always make souse with canned tomato products. Just mix everything together in a big pot and let simmer until it gets nice and thickened.
What Are Some Common Souse Recipes?
There are many different kinds of souses you can make.
Some include a variety of vegetables such as onions, carrots, peppers, celery, and cabbage.
Others use only meat like ham hocks, bacon, salt pork or even beef shanks.
You might also find other ingredients used in souse including mushrooms, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, herbs, spices, and more.
The most important thing about this dish is not what goes into it but how much time you spend on preparing it.
Souse takes hours to prepare so don’t expect to have it ready for dinner when your guests arrive! If you want to get ahead of the game, try freezing it.
You can serve it alongside oysters or shrimp cocktail as an appetizer or pair it with something rich like roast chicken or prime rib.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, add it to your favorite sandwich.
What Are Some Tips For Making Souse?
To be clear, this isn’t an easy thing to do at home, but if you have access to the right equipment and know how to cook meat properly, then it can be done!
First off, I highly recommend getting yourself a good quality cutting board.
You want something sturdy where you don’t need to worry about bending over your sink while chopping up all your ingredients.
A nice wooden one will last forever, so go ahead and splurge on something like that.
Next, you’ll need a large pot to put everything into.
Something between 5-7 gallons should work well depending on what size you intend to get out of your finished product.
You also want to take advantage of a food dehydrator.
If you have one already, great, but if not, you can buy one online fairly inexpensively.
Just search around until you find something that fits your budget.
I would suggest going with a commercial style dehydrator rather than a countertop model.
They tend to heat things quicker, and they’re easier to use without having to stand over them constantly to check on their progress.
The other thing you might consider is investing in a slow cooker.
While these aren’t necessary for making souse, they definitely come in handy for a lot of different types of cooking projects.
For example, you could easily turn a slow cooker into a crockpot if you wanted to.
Finally, you’ll need a thermometer.
These are pretty cheap and easy to find on Amazon.com.
There are even ones that double as candy/ice cube makers too!
What Are Some Common Mistakes People Make When Making Souse?
The most dangerous mistake I see people make when they cook this dish is not cooking it long enough.
Sous chefs and home cooks alike often overcook souse to the point where it becomes mushy and bland.
That’s because the fat in the meat starts breaking down, releasing its juices and flavors into the sauce, resulting in something less than delicious.
So how do you know whether your souse is done or not? You should be able to smell it coming out of the oven.
If you don’t smell anything, then it needs to go back in the oven until it does.
When you pull it out, you want to try to pierce through the bottom of the pot using a skewer.
If the skewer goes right through, then the souse is ready.
Otherwise, put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes or so.
How Can You Tell If Souse Is Cooked Properly?
The best way to determine whether your souse is done cooking is by smell.
If you have a strong nose, then you should be able to detect the pungent aroma of this delicious dish.
Sous chefs say they know when their souses are ready because they start smelling like a kitchen where someone has been smoking meat all day long.
If you don’t want to wait until it smells good enough to eat, you could always use a thermometer.
The USDA recommends taking the temperature of your souse every 30 minutes after it starts simmering on medium heat.
You will need a digital probe thermometer at least 1/4 inch wide.
Make sure you write down what time each reading occurred so you can compare them later.
When you reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s safe to serve up your head cheese!
What Are Some Serving Suggestions For Souse?
This is a very versatile dish and people have used all kinds of ingredients to make their own version.
Some examples include:
- Bacon bits
- Chicken gizzards
- Celery hearts
- Pork fatback
- Shrimp meatballs
- Turkey necks
There are also many different ways to serve this dish.
For example, it could be eaten on a sandwich, but I personally like to eat it as sort of an appetizer.
You would slice up your favorite bread, put mustard on top, then add some pickled vegetables, followed by slices of raw onion rings and then place the whole thing in between two pieces of bacon.
Then finish off by adding a nice hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Crystal Hot Sauce, or Sriracha.
The great part about eating souse is that you don’t need to worry too much about overcooking it because it will continue to cook after you take it out of the fridge.
And while souse may not look pretty when it first hits the table, it sure does taste good!
What Are Some Interesting Facts About Souse?
If you want to make your own homemade version at home, we have a guide on how to do so here.
But if you don’t feel like doing all the work yourself, you can buy fresh souse meat online or even at local restaurants and butcher shops.
According to Food Network, the most popular way to serve it today is as a cold cut.
You can find it sliced up on sandwiches or chopped into chunks and used as an ingredient in other recipes.
Another option is to use it as a base for gumbo.
Or you could cook it up in its own right, using this recipe from Bon Appétit.
Another thing you might not know about souse is that it’s considered a delicacy by many people who live outside of the area where it originated.
If you ever get invited over to someone’s house and they ask what you would like to drink while you eat, chances are good that the answer will be something sweetened with cane syrup.
But if you tell them you’d rather have some souse instead, you may hear gasps and exclamations of surprise!
- 4 pigs feet
- 1 cup chopped pickles
- 2 cups vinegar
- 2 cups stock
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 1 Tablespoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon broken cinnamon stick
- Feet should be well scraped and cleaned before being boiled in a salt water bath. Simmer for about four hours, or until the meat and bones are separated.
- Combine vinegar, salt, pepper, and spices with the stock in which the meat was cooked. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove spices by straining the liquid.
- Pour the acidic liquid over the meat pieces and chopped pickles in a flat dish or stone jar. (Coalcracker kitchen tip: A bread pan also functions wonderfully.)
- Refrigerate food until it is completely cold.
- Slice, then dish.