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This is a recipe for the hearty Scottish stew powsowdie, traditionally made with a sheep’s or deer’s head, but which works well with other cuts of meat. I used various venison cuts.
Powsowdie is a centuries-old dish, a stew for the poor and middle class that uses humble ingredients, most notably a sheep’s head. Yes, an actual sheep’s head. You can of course make this with a real sheep’s head, which you will most likely find in a halal market in the United States.
Or, if you live in a place without Chronic Wasting Disease, definitely make this a deer head stew and use the skinned-out head of a doe or button buck.
Or, do what I did and use bits that mimic a whole head: deer or lamb shanks, a couple deer or lamb tongues and a pair of hog trotters. This mix includes meat you’d get in the traditional dish, plus the addition of sticky, gelatin-rich trotters, which you can get in most butcher shops, Asian or Latin markets.
Use odd bits if you can because powsowdie is a celebration of no waste, of using bits and bobbles and odds and ends to make something beautiful. And this stew is, despite all odds, beautiful.
If you have none of all this, use something like lamb or deer shoulder, or neck, or something with lots of connective tissue, plus, if you want it thick and lovely, maybe a teaspoon or two of Knox gelatin.
Reading through various recipes for powsowdie — mine is mostly inspired by a recipe in Ben Mervis’ excellent The British Cookbook — there are two striking things about this stew:
- First, there’s no browning. Everything is all cooked slow and gentle. And there’s an added scald and clean step very common in Asian cooking, but relatively rare in Europe. More on that below.
- Second, the use of dry split green peas right at the beginning. The peas completely dissolve and further thicken the powsowdie. Barley, which is eaten as a grain element in the stew, comes later.
Add to this humble things like rutabagas, leeks, celery, carrot if you want it, barley and parsley and you have something so simple you’ll wonder what makes it so good.
The answer is time.
Powsowdie is a weekend or day-off stew, as it’s best cooked very slowly over the course of a day. You’ll also need to do things like debone and mince the trotters if you are using them, pick meat off a head if using that, shred meat off a shank, or peel skin off a tongue.
Such is the gnarly price of turning bits people throw away into wonderment.
Serve powsowdie with bannocks or rye bread, or any sturdy loaf, some dark, malty beer or red wine and cozy up on a dark winter’s day knowing you cooked, really cooked, and made something satisfying out of practically nothing.
Other British Recipes
Here are a few other of my favorite Scottish or generally British dishes that would work well with a nice bowl of powsowdie.
- Mince and Tatties. Maybe the national dish of Scotland.
- Venison mincemeat pies, a British winter favorite that yes, actually has meat in it.
- Lancashire hotpot, a simple dish of meat and potatoes.
- Venison shepherd’s pie, which should rightly be called huntsman’s pie, but hey…
If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.
- 1 pound lamb or deer tongues (see below for alternates)
- 2 lamb or deer shanks
- 2 pig's trotters
- 1/2 cup dry green peas
- 1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/2 pound barley
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts, sliced thin
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- Black pepper to taste
- Put all the meats in a large pot, bring this to a boil and let it cook for a minute or two. Pour off the water and discard, rinse the meats under cole water and clean the pot. This process "cleans" the meats and will limit the froth that forms on the actual broth.
- Put the meats back in the pot and cover with water by about 2 or 3 inches. Bring to a simmer and skim any froth. Pour in the dry green peas. Add a tablespoon or two of salt and let this simmer gently until everything is really tender, which will be about 3 to 4 hours.
- Remove all the meats carefully. Let them cool on a baking sheet for a bit. If you are using tongues, you will need to peel the skin off them while they're still warm. If you have trouble, use a paring knife. Discard all the bones from the trotters (there are many) and the shanks. Roughly shred the shank meat and finely mince the various bits of trotter. Cut the tongues into chunks.
- Put all this back in the pot and add the barley, rutabaga, leeks and celery. Let all this simmer until the barley and rutabaga are tender, about 40 minutes. Adjust the seasonings with salt and black pepper and add the parsley. Serve with bread and beer.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.