Souse is a traditional dish that is common in Bahamian cuisine. This chicken souse recipe has graced Bahamian weekend tables for generations, and now it can grace yours as well.
This chicken souse recipe from the Bahamas is the real deal! The ingredients and loose method were provided to me by a friend who was raised in Nassau and is a true Bahamian.
I recently visited the Bahamas on a quick weekend getaway. Whenever I travel, I try to experience a country or place as the locals do, and minimize my amount of predictable tourist activities. On my list of things I wanted to do was to eat some version of souse.
Our trip turned out to be too short to make it happen, but I came home determined to try my own hand at making and eating a chicken souse. With the guidance of my friend Deandra's old family recipe, I bring you this chicken souse recipe from the Bahamas!
For the record, the word is pronounced sow-ss. My friend Anthony got a great laugh when I left him a message asking him for a recipe for chicken seuss. "Like the Dr?! Ahahaha!"
So don't make the mistake I did - when talking to the locals, make sure you know how to pronounce it!
Origins of souse
The word "souse" actually means to soak or drench in liquid. As a noun, it's the word for a heavily salted pickling liquid - and you'll see why shortly. It doesn't actually originate from the Bahamas, but from old English and Germanic cooking methods meant to preserve meat with acidity.
Souse has a lengthy history in several Caribbean countries, not just the Bahamas. When the Europeans settled in the Caribbean, they brought with them all their traditions and customs, including those related to food.
Slaves who worked in the kitchens were taught to cook for their masters in the traditional British way. Once the slave master’s household had eaten, they served offcuts of meat and bones to the slaves. Things like chicken wings, pigs' feet, sheep tongue, etc were left for them.
For most slaves, food in general was like gold, and as such, they learned how to stretch what they got and ate as much as they could because they were never sure when their next meal would come. Souse is said to have been the slaves’ answer to their very limited meal options, and the meal they invented out of those leftover cuts of meat to make them edible.
These days, souse is said to be a hangover cure for the side effects of long nights of drinking!
What goes in Bahamian chicken souse
This chicken souse recipe is a great main course for a meal. The main ingredients are meat and veggies, and the whole thing is paleo! The traditional vegetables used are celery stalks, onion, carrots, peppers, and sometimes potatoes.
I'm using chicken wings in this souse recipe, but you'll see below that there are number of other meats you can use to make a souse as well.
A souse also includes lots of flavorful spices and seasonings. Whole allspice, bay leaves, cut garlic cloves, and lime juice are all added while it cooks to bring flavor to the dish.
It's also usually got a bit of spice to it. A traditional souse made in the Bahamas usually includes goat peppers, which is a hot pepper that is a cousin of the habañero and the scotch bonnet pepper.
Goat peppers can be harder to find, but you could easily substitute one of these two. Other hot peppers, and/or red pepper flakes (RPF, as we call it in our house) can be added for flavor and spice. If you don't love it spicy, you can use bell peppers for a milder flavor.
I used a seeded jalapeño, as I wanted to add a bit of spice but also make it so that my 5 year old would eat it and not be scared off.
You're also going to be using a lot of fresh water - you'll combine the chicken wings, blend of spices and veggies and boil to essentially make a chicken stock that's the base of the meal.
Last but not least, the key ingredient is lime juice - you'll add this to the clear broth to pack an extra punch of flavor. If you can, use the juice of fresh citrus - it's flavor will be far superior to that of bottled lime juice from the store.
We have this electric juicer and it does a decent job if you don't want to do it by hand.
How to make a souse
The liquid ‘souse’ portion is the taste of seasoned, boiled chicken so it’s important to wash the chicken well and blanch your wings prior to seasoning. As my Bahamian friend Deandra said to me, we want the final product water to be ‘clean’.
Start with a pack of wings. If they aren't already separated, you can cut the drums from the wings to double the quantity and make the pieces of chicken a little easier to work with.
Wash the meat in a bowl of tap water with lime juice or a little bit of vinegar.
On the stovetop, bring a large pot of water to a quick boil over high heat. Add the chicken wings to blanch the chicken for about 10 minutes.
Throw out that oily kind of light foamy residual boil and rinse the chicken with cold water.
Now we're going to work on bringing it all together! I like to have most of my ingredients ready to go in this case so I can just add them as I go. The fancy chefs call this mis en place, I call it prep.
Heat a bit of cooking oil in the pot over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and a sprinkle of salt and get them sizzling.
Add onions, celery, and carrots and sauteé for another minute or two until fragrant and starting to glisten. This just gets them to release their flavor a bit before we add all the water. (It's science; you can read more about it here.)
Add your chicken wings back to the pot, and add enough water to cover.
Add the lime juice, the garlic, the hot pepper of your choice, the allspice, the bay leaf, and the salt. (If it seems like a lot of lime juice, it's ok - it is! This dish is supposed to be served limey and spicy. You can always adjust to your tastes.)
Cover the pot and simmer on medium heat to finish cooking through the meat and veggies. If you cut the potatoes into small cubes, you can cook the potatoes through and still have a slight crunch to the veggies.
You're looking for the potatoes to be tender but not falling apart, and the chicken cooked all the way through.
What to serve with chicken souse
In my friend's house, and at her mother's and grandmother's table, this chicken souse recipe is traditionally served with a side of johnny cake.
You can find a traditional johnny cake recipe here - be forewarned, there is nothing paleo about johnny cake! Also, this is different from johnny cakes, which when googled will bring up a version of a pancake.
There are two excellent alcoholic beverages that are also often served with chicken souse and johnny cake. The first is Kalik, which is a Bahamian brand of beer that is made by the the Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau which also produces Heineken, Guinness and Vitamalt. According to the bottle label, the name Kalik is derived from sound of cowbells heard during the annual Bahamian festival of Junkanoo.
Souse is also served with sky juice. Sky juice is a drink commonly served with souse also. The other beverage that is commonly served with a souse is called sky juice. Also known as gully wash, this refreshing beverage is a blend of coconut water, sweetened condensed coconut milk, and gin.
I tried sky juice in Nassau down at the Fish Fry and it did not disappoint! It's the perfect refreshing beverage on a hot day. The sweet creaminess of it also pairs very well with the spicy broth of the souse.
Other variations of souse
Chicken wing souse is one of the most popular, but souse is still made today with many other animal parts. This popular dish has been made with chicken feet or other chicken parts, or pigs feet or pork ribs to make a pork souse.
The final soup is the same; simply with different animal parts to lend a slightly different flavor to the salty broth or liquid.
A good souse is a great way to make a meal to feed a crowd, or a simple way to feed your family. Happy cooking!
- 4 lb chicken wings
- lots of water!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound russet or yukon gold potatoes
- 1 ½ cups chopped celery
- 1 ½ cups chopped onion
- 1 ½ cups chopped carrots
- 1 small hot pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¾ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon allspice
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoon salt
- Separate the wings from the drums, then rinse in cold water with a splash of vinegar. Drain.
- In a large stockpot over high heat, bring a mostly full pot of clean water to a boil.
- Add the chicken wings and blanch about 10 minutes, until the water looks a little "foamy."
- Remove the pot from the stove and drain the wings in a colander, discarding the water.
- Rinse the pot out and return it to the stove. Heat the oil over medium heat until it looks glossy and shimmery, then add the potatoes. They should sizzle! Cook them for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the celery, carrots, and onions to the pot along with 1 teaspoon of the salt and stir, cooking another 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are fragrant.
- Add your hot pepper and minced garlic, stir, then add your chicken wings back to the pot.
- Add enough water to the pot to cover the wings, then add the lime juice, allspice, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and the remaining salt.
- Mix well, then cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender and the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately. Add additional lime juice and red pepper flakes to taste.
Keep in mind while cooking that this recipe is very much one of personal tastes. The amount of lime juice and spice (in the form of both fresh peppers and red pepper flakes) are going to vary depending on your taste buds. While it is traditionally a very limey, spicy broth, you can adjust yours to be whatever you'd like. I kept mine on the milder side with spice for my son, and then my husband added dried ghost peppers to his, which took it to an 11. 🥵 Remember the golden rule - you can always put more in, but you can't take it out!
The allspice and bay leaf are not meant to be eaten. You can leave the allspice in when you serve, just make sure to tell people to eat around it! You can remove it if you prefer.
Serve with a side of johnny cake and sky juice for a complete meal!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 489Total Fat: 33gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 106mgSodium: 871mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 23g