Taste of the Caribbean: Browning Makes Everything Better
Few are the secret ingredients more essential to creating that uniquely West Indian flavor we all know and love than a simple sauce called Browning. Even if you’ve enjoyed island food your whole life, it’s entirely possible you’ve never heard of this stuff, so understated and surreptitious are its magical methods.
The proverbial straw that stirs the drink of so many island favorites – oxtail stew, peas and rice, stew chicken, stew beef, even black cake – Browning is an absolute essential in any West Indian kitchen… and yet, you won’t find a bottle of it like this in many of ’em.
This is Uncle Panks All-Purpose Browning from Trinidad & Tobago. As you can see front and center on the label, it’s good for adding Caribbean flavor to seafood, poultry, beef (not pictured) and just about anything else.
It’s good stuff, or so says my sister-in-law, Kathleen, who used this very same bottle in making the fantastic Black Cake I received this past Christmas.
So, why won’t you find this in the kitchen cupboards of many households throughout the Caribbean?
Well, truth is, Browning is just so easy to make, that it almost seems more trouble to buy it than to mix up a batch of your own.
The proof is in the paltry list of ingredients featured right on the bottle of Panks – caramel color and water… that’s it!
I hear you doubts: how could something so simple add so much goodness to so many different dishes?
I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true! It’s also true that there’s more to most homemade Browning than the Panks label implies.
At its core, browning is really just burnt sugar. Burnt brown sugar, actually. My Dad taught me how to make it years ago to add extra color and sweetness to the beef cubes I usually like to include in my red beans and rice.
Basically, you just pour a tablespoon or two of cooking oil in your pot and mix in a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. Heat it up til the mix starts to caramelize and smoke a bit. Next add your beef cubes, sautéing them in the browning. Along the way, you’ll notice that the Browning adds a deep, rich dark-brown color and a wonderfully smoky, molasses-like scent.
It’s a smell that transports most anyone who grew up in a West Indian household right back to their mother’s kitchen. Visitors to the region may also be reminded of an authentic island restaurant, or a visit to a local friend’s home.
Either way, it’s hard to add a more authentically West Indian dimension to almost anything you’re cooking… and best of all, it couldn’t be any easier to make!