Pepperpot is a rich meat stew that gets its signature dark color from cassareep, a thick "caramel" or reduction sauce made from cassava extract. Pepperpot is Guyana's national dish and is given to us by the Amerindians, indigenous people of Guyana. It is traditionally eaten with bread (preferably homemade plait bread) on Christmas morning.
My favorite childhood Christmas memory is waking up to the smell of pepperpot and bread on Christmas morning. Traditional pepperpot making is a real labor of love. The best tasting pepperpot simmers for hours, even days before being served. This recipe takes about 6 hours, but most of the time it's on the stove simmering away and you don't have much to do.
This recipe requires a large stock pot and a pressure cooker, but if you don't have a pressure cooker or feel comfortable using one, scroll to the notes section of the recipe card for tips on what to do if you don't have a pressure cooker.
For this recipe, you will:
- Beef (I used a chuck roast, then cut it into 1 inch cubes)
- Cow Heel (also be called cow/beef feet and beef trotters)
- Brown sugar
- Onions (many people avoid onions in cassareep but I love it in mine)
- Garlic (cloves and granulated)
- Cayenne pepper
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Wiri wiri peppers
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Dried Guyanese thyme
See recipe card for exact measurements
Step by Step Recipe Guide
Season and Marinate the Meat
First season the oxtail using ⅓ of the sugar and ⅓ of all the other ingredients, except the cinnamon and cloves. Use ⅓ of ½ of the cassareep and reserve the other ½ to use later. Do not add the onion and garlic. Mix everything together and let sit for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Follow the same steps above to marinate the beef and cow heel. Some people prefer to blanch their cowheel before cooking. You can blanch your cow heel by boiling it in some salted water for about 10 minutes then draining.
Once everything has been marinating for at least 30 minutes, we can start the long but wonderful pepperpot cooking process.
The thing I hate most about pepperpot is biting into a clove while eating. Since the pepperpot sauce is a rich dark color, the cloves blend right in. Putting the spices in a pouch keeps them in one place and you can fish the pouch out after cooking. Place the cloves in a 6 inch square of muslin fabric or cheese cloth. Gather up the edges of the fabric and make a knot. Now you have a nice little clove diffuser.
Brown the Meat
In a large stock pot saute ⅓ of the onion and garlic on high heat, in about 2 tablespoon of oil. Then add seasoned beef, cinnamon and cloves. Saute beef until all pieces are brown all over. Browned meat is delicious when slow cooked. Browning also seals in the flavors of the spices. Once meat is nice and brown, add about 6 cups of water to the beef, bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer. This will continue to cook slowly, while we are prepping all the other ingredients.
Now for the oxtail. Warm about 1 tablespoon oil in a traditional pressure cooker on high heat (this can also be done in an instant pot), then add oxtail and ⅓ of onion and garlic. Sauté oxtail until brown, then add 5 cups of water to the pressure cooker. Cover and pressure cook until oxtail is tender but not completely falling off the bone. Some meats take a very long time to cook, I use my pressure cooker to speed up the process.
Follow the same steps to pressure cook the cow heel, as you did with the oxtail. It took about 45 minutes to pressure cook each. You can do it together if your pressure pot is big enough. While they were pressure cooking, the beef was simmering on low.
Adding Everything Together
Now add the oxtail to the beef and mix together.
Then add the cow heel to the oxtail and beef combination and mix together.
After you combined all the meat add about 2 to 3 cups more water, just enough to cover the meat. It is also at this point that I add the ½ cup of cassareep we reserved in the beginning. Increase the heat to high and bring the pot to a roaring boiling. Let boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
Letting it Simmer
Then reduce the heat to medium low or low and let the pepperpot continue to simmer until all the meat is falling off the bone tender. This took about 2.5 hours for me. Along the way, I tasted the pepperpot and added about ¼ cup brown sugar and a pinch of salt. I also made sure the wiri peppers were cut open for additional heat.
Skimming the Fat from Pepperpot
At the end of the cooking process you will notice a layer of oil floating above the pepperpot. Use a ladle or pot soon to skim as much fat as possible from the pepperpot. You can also do this the next day after the fat coagulates and is easier to skim.
Storing and Reheating
The cassareep in pepperpot acts a preservative, therefore you do not need to refrigerate the pepperpot. Just leave it sitting on the stop top and reheat twice daily, until it is all gone. Once in the morning and once at night. To reheat, simply bring to a boil on high heat, then let boil for 5 to 10 minutes (until all of the meat come up to temperature. Then remove from the heat.
Different Ways to make Pepperpot
Over the years I've made pepperpot in the Instant Pot and in the slow cooker. You can find those recipes here:
With the instant pot it is a bit of a process but the results are worth it. You will need a large enough instant pot if you are hoping to make a large serving. I use my 10 quart instant pot for pepperpot.
On the other hand the slow cooker was the easiest pepperpot I've ever made. I just set everything over night and woke up to delicious pepperpot the next morning.
- Beef: You can use lamb or goat as a substitute for the beef in this recipe, if you don't eat beef.
- Cow Heel: Some people also use pig trotters and pig tail in their pepperpot. It's the collagen in the cow heel or pig trotters that give pepperpot that thick and sticky consistency.
- Oxtail: In Guyana we don't typically use oxtail in pepperpot. We use any beef with bones. In the US it's hard to find beef bones so I use oxtail or beef neck bones if you can find that. The bones is need to add depth and richness to the pepperpot
- Cassareep: There is no substitution for cassareep in this recipe. Without it you are not making pepperpot. The Cassareep is what makes this dish unique.
- Guyanese Thyme (also called Portuguese thyme): You may use regular fresh thyme is you can't get Guyanese thyme or simply skip it
- Wiri Wiri Peppers: Wiri wiri peppers are a small round chili pepper found in Guyana. You can substitute the wiri wiri peppers in this recipe for a scotch bonnet or habanero pepper.
- Pepperpot is better when it sits for at least 12 hours in the gravy before serving. Most people make their pepperpot on Christmas eve, let it sit overnight, reheat it and then serve it on Christmas morning.
- There is no need to refrigerate your pepperpot, cassareep acts as a preservative and will prevent the pepperpot from going bad.
- Keep your pepperpot on the stove top and keep reheating it twice daily, once in the morning and then at night before you go to bed.
- If you add orange peel to your pepperpot, it must be dried orange peel or the natural oils in the fresh orange peel will over power the flavor of your pepperpot.
How to Serve Pepperpot
Pepperpot is best enjoyed with Guyanese plait bread. If you don't want to make Guyanese bread the best next thing is a brioche bread. Pepperpot and bread is a match made in heaven, but the unpopular combination is pepperpot and white rice. Some people enjoy their pepperpot over a bowl of steamed white rice. It is not my favorite combination but I don't judge anyone who likes it.
Printable Recipe Card
- 1.5 lbs Beef I used a chuck roast, cut it into 1 inch cubes
- 2 lbs Oxtail fat trimmed
- 3 lbs Cow Heel also called beef feet/trotters
- 1 cup cassareep divided into 2
- ½ cup brown sugar, plus ¼ cup for the end
- 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon dried Guyanese thyme
- 2 teaspoons salt or salt to taste
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 6 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 3 wiri wiri peppers may use 1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 5 cinnamon sticks
- About 4 tablespoons of oil for cooking
- In a ziplock bag or small bowl combine the sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, granulated garlic, fresh ground black pepper and thyme and mix together well. Then divide this dry rub into 3 and set aside
- Next season the oxtail using ⅓ of the dry rub and 3 tablespoons of the cassareep. Mix together well then let marinate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
- Repeat step two to season the beef and cow heel and also let it marinate for 30 minutes before cooking
- Then when ready to cook, bring a large stock pot up to temperature on high heat. When the pot I hot add about 2 tablespoons of oil, then sauté ⅓ of the onion and garlic on high heat, in about 2 tablespoon of oil
- Add the seasoned beef, cinnamon, cloves (if not putting the cloves in a pouch) and wiri wiri pepper and continue to sauté until all pieces of the beef are brown all over. You may brown the beef in batches if necessary.
- Once the meat is brown, add about 6 cups of water to the beef, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer
- While the beef if simmering, bring about 1 tablespoon oil up to temperature in a pressure cooker on high heat, then add the onion and garlic followed by the seasoned oxtail
- Sauté the oxtail until brown, then add 5 cups of water to the pressure cooker. Cover and pressure cook until oxtail is tender but not completely falling off the bone, this should take about 45 minutes depending on the size of the oxtails, but I recommend checking the tenderness of the meat after 30 minutes of pressure cooking. You are looking for fork tender but not fall off the bone tender
- Follow the same steps to pressure cook the cow heel, as you did with the oxtail. If you have a large enough pressure cooker you may cook the oxtail and cow heel together but start by pressure cooking the cow heel first for 45 minutes, then adding the oxtail and continuing for another 45 minutes.
- Then add the oxtail and cow heel to the beef and mix together well, then add 2 to three more cups of water, just enough to cover the meat
- Then add the remaining ½ cup of cassareep and ¼ cup of brown sugar, increase the heat to high and bring pot back up to a roaring boiling. Let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, reduce heat to low and simmer until all the meat is falling off the bone tender, about 2.5 hrs.
- Lastly, cut open the wiri wiri peppers for additional heat
- Serve and Enjoy