The Mystery Of Souse

When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence on chefs in Florida and beyond. Now the chef/owner of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is also hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen (Kyle Books), due out in fall 2012. In the meantime, he'll contribute to Food Republic with his "Word On Food." He's on twitter @normanvanaken.

Read Norman Van Aken's Souse Recipe.

I have been making Souse. Right? Got that? Know what I'm talkin' bout? You might be confused. You might stay that way. Let me unravel a bit. Here's souse as defined by the Wikipedia geniuses:

"1. to plunge (something, oneself, etc.) into water or other liquid

2. to drench or be drenched

3. (tr) to pour or dash (liquid) over (a person or thing)

4. (Cookery) to steep or cook (food) in a marinade

5. (tr; usually passive) Slang to make drunk

Head cheese or brawn, is a cold cut that originated in Europe. A version pickled with vinegar is known as souse."

There are many variations of Souse! Cold ones. Hot ones. You'll see.

Many old school souse recipes read like this:

"Clean pig head and split open. Place head, feet and hocks in large heavy kettle and cover with water. Add salt and pepper. Bring to boil and cook until tender. Remove meat from liquid, cool, strip from bones and chop. Add spices and liquid and boil until liquid is reduced by a half."

This is not something I expect to watch on Sandra Lee's show. (Not that I make a point to watch.) To make mine I went in several directions but never strayed too far from animal parts more familiar to the folks in, say, the Ozarks, more than Worth Avenue, Palm Beach.

I start with pigs feet, smoked pork hock and pigs tails and cook them in a mix of chilies, onions, spices and water with a good dose of white vinegar. (The pig's ears were missing on shopping day.)

In another vessel I prepare honeycomb tripe (a.k.a. cow stomach lining). This is slowly cooked and made tender with mirepoix vegetables, tomatoes and serrano chilies, plus homemade chicken stock.

I'd make a meal with just that part and be happy but....that ain't souse, folks. So on we go. And bowing to the less adventurous — throwing a bone, if you will — I put one more pot on the fire and cook chicken wings in lime juice, (not much lime though, enough) with Yukon gold potatoes (so sweet!), serrano chilies (for consistent chile buzz), bell pepper, carrots and a small red onion. I use the water that I cooked the pigs tail, feet and hock, which I call "Pig Bone Broth." Why not? It sure didn't stay "water" after rolling with that pig for three hours. Everything is now joined together in one large pot and allowed to marry. Slowly, slowly... I serve it with a side dish of fine chopped serranos (of course) and a few wedges of lime.

If that kind of souse is too meaty I have another recipe written by a lady from Texas many years ago for "Cheese Dessert on Soused Camembert with Almonds."

You see, it is beyond definition. Souse.

I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my word on food.