Why It Works
- Nutmeg adds a layer of spice complexity.
- Pressurizing each meat separately ensures proper tenderness.
Pepperpot, a national dish of Guyana, is a delightful meat-based stew, rich with braised beef and infused with cinnamon, clove, thyme, and wiri wiri peppers, a small red pepper that's native to Guyana and is prized for its bright and spicy punch. Although not traditional to many pepperpot recipes, this version calls for nutmeg for an added layer of spice complexity. Pepperpot is traditionally eaten on Christmas morning for breakfast alongside Guyanese plait bread, a braided white bread similar in appearance to challah but without the shiny egg-washed crust.
Pepperpot is defined in large part by the inclusion of cassareep, a thick, black liquid (the reason pepperpot stew is dark) that has the same consistency as molasses and is made from the bitter juices of the cassava. The process of making cassareep involves grating the poisonous and bitter cassava root, then stuffing it into a flexible, cylindrical basket called a matapee. All the juices of the grated cassava are squeezed out into a container or bucket, which are then carefully boiled, to both deactivate the poison and reduce the juices to a thick black syrup. Cassareep is found in every Guyanese home, where it's used as a browning agent to prepare many different dishes such as stews.
Cassareep is highly shelf-stable, able to be kept for many years without spoiling. My mom would always joke that my grandmother’s cassareep was kept for “donkey's years,” which is a British way of saying a very long time. A large pot of pepperpot also tends to be left out, often on the stove for weeks without going to waste. To avoid spoilage, Guyanese home cooks reheat pepperpot a couple times each day, morning and evening until the last bowlful is eaten, to kill off any microorganisms that might be beginning to establish themselves. I've always found that as the stew sits and is warmed every day, it tastes better over time.
The process of making pepperpot generally takes at least a few hours to cook depending on your choices of meat. Beef, pork, and mutton (sheep) are some of the more popular meats for making pepperpot, though you have many options. My favorite way to enjoy pepperpot is with a combination of oxtails, beef, and cow foot (collagen-rich cuts like cow foot, head, and heel are popular inclusions, as they enrich and thicken the stew's consistency as their natural high levels of collagen melt into lip-sticking gelatin). For this recipe, each meat is pressured separately due to their various cooking times then combined into one big pot.
The taste of pepperpot itself is more on the sweet side but it does have a balance between sweet and savory. This dish is unlike any other in the world. As the name implies, pepperpot is also spicy. Now every Guyanese prepares the spices and heat level to their personal preference. Wiri Wiri pepper is a Guyanese chili pepper and is one of the main peppers used in Guyana. It is a small round pepper that is spicy and unique in smell; for most Guyanese this is what is added to pepperpot for the heat. If you do not have access to this pepper, a great substitute is Scotch bonnet pepper.
Waking up to the sweet aroma of pepperpot and freshly baked bread as a young girl in Guyana is so nostalgic. Christmas morning my grandmother would have the table set with bowls of pepperpot for the entire family then in the center of the table there was freshly baked plait bread. To top it off, she would always make hot cups of Nestle's malted Milo drink to accompany the meal; this was pure bliss for me. Before that morning, I would dream about dipping my bread into the pepperpot surrounded by loved ones. These are the wonderful memories that made Christmas so special and memorable to me. I am happy that I get to pass down such a wonderful tradition.
Pepperpot is popular in other Caribbean countries such as Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago. However, Guyanese pepperpot should not be compared or confused with any other pepperpot from different parts of the Caribbean, as it differs in appearance and preparation. There is no pepperpot like a Guyanese pepperpot; it is true to Guyana. It is our pride and joy as we continue to celebrate the first people that migrated to Guyana.
- 2 pounds (900g) cow foot, cut into roughly 1- by 2-inch pieces (see note)
- 2 teaspoons (8g) kosher salt, divided
- 2 1/2 teaspoons chicken bouillon, divided
- 1 1/4 cups (420ml) cassareep, divided
- 21 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
- 24 whole cloves, divided
- 3 cinnamon sticks (about 3 inches each), divided
- 1 pound (450g) oxtail with separated joints
- 1 pound (450g) bone-in beef chuck, cut into roughly 2-inch pieces (see note)
- 6 medium cloves garlic (about 25g), finely minced
- 4 fresh wiri wiri peppers (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (24g) light brown sugar
- One 2 1/2–inch knob fresh ginger (about 30g), peeled and grated
- 1/2 of a whole nutmeg (2g), grated
- One 1-inch strip orange peel, trimmed of excess white pith
Season cow foot all over with salt and 1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon. In a stovetop pressure cooker or electric multicooker (such as an Instant Pot), combine cow foot with 1/2 cup cassareep, 7 sprigs thyme, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 4 cups water. Bring to high pressure and cook for 60 minutes. Depressurize the cooker using the rapid release valve, then transfer cow foot and cooking juices into a large pot or Dutch oven and set aside.
Season oxtail all over with salt and 1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon. Using the same pressure cooker, combine oxtails with 1/2 cup cassareep, 7 sprigs thyme, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 2 cups water. Bring to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes. Depressurize the cooker using the rapid release valve, then transfer cooked oxtails and their cooking liquid into the pot with the cow foot.
Season beef chuck all over with salt and ½ teaspoon chicken bouillon. Using the same pressure cooker, combine beef chuck with 1/2 cup cassareep, 7 sprigs thyme, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 3 cups water. Bring to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes. Depressurize the cooker using the rapid release valve, then transfer cooked beef chuck and its cooking liquid into the pot with the cow foot and oxtails.
Add minced garlic, wiri wiri peppers (puncture one or two peppers with a knife first for extra chile heat), brown sugar, grated ginger, nutmeg, orange peel, and the remaining 1/4 cup cassareep and 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon to the pot and stir well. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes; the stew's sauce should be brothy but with body. Season with salt, if needed.
Remove from heat, then skim any fat from the surface. Serve with bread.
Ask your butcher to cut the beef foot and bone-in chuck for you; otherwise substitute an equal weight of boneless beef chuck and leave the beef foot as-is.
If you can't find fresh Guyanese wiri wiri peppers, you can use dried ones or substitute Scotch bonnet peppers.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The stew can be refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. Reheat gently before serving.