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Making Caribbean “Browning”

Ooh that’s artsy. What can I say, I get in those moods. “Browning” is the Caribbean version of Kitchen Bouquet or Grace. It’s a sauce additive, really just a brown coloring, used to give things like stews and gravies a deep, rich appearance. I myself am going to use it for Caribbean fruitcake. Given that the application is sweet rather than savory, it makes sense that Caribbean fruitcake lovers make their own, as homemade browning has no salt or meat or vegetable favors in it. It’s just deeply, deeply caramelized sugar that yes, tastes like the darkest of dark molasses, but then just a little bit delivers a whole lot of color with no taste to speak of.

Start yours by adding a cup of the sugar of your choice to heavy-bottomed stainless sauce pan. Here I’m using coconut sugar, which I just happened to have, but is great for browning because it turns almost black without having to burn it to near ashes. Brown sugar is also very good. White sugar can also be used.

Adding a little water up front isn’t strictly traditional, though it makes no difference because it will all cook out. Any anyway it’s a little easier on the pan than just melting the sugar outright. You’ll see why that’s important a bit later.

Swirl the mixture over high heat. See? I’ve barely started and the coconut sugar is a already caramelly brown. You’ll notice that it will form large bubbles…

…then smaller bubbles…

Until it eventually it resembles a molten mass.

When the recesses of the boiling blob turn black, and little volcanoes start to puff out clouds of smoke, you’re done. Add a quarter cup of warm water.

The mixture will condense and hiss and spit, so be careful.

Stir the mixture off the heat with a spoon until it’s homogenous…about like so, and you’re done! Pour it into a small bowl to cool. Nice work.

Oh.

Hm.

Well now I’m starting to see why little old Jamaican ladies make this stuff in old tomato cans on the stovetop, and stir it with bamboo skewers. Once it’s done they can just throw the makeshift cookware away without having to imperil their good pans and implements. Well, no big deal. I’m just going to fill the saucepan with water, and simmer the spoon in it. After a few minutes of simmering and gentle scraping, my pan looks like this.

Three more minutes with a scour sponge and I’m pretty much back to where I started.

Except now I have this:

Awesome.

7 thoughts on “Making Caribbean “Browning””

  1. “When the recesses of the boiling blob turn black, and little volcanoes start to puff out clouds of smoke, you’re done.”

    Goodness, this sounds like it might be straight out of Macbeth. Fire burn and cauldron bubble indeed.

    1. That or the ninth circle of sugar hell! 😉

      But yeah, it’s a fun thing to make. Very Halloween-y.

      – Joe

  2. I learned that trick of simmering water in a pan to clean it a number of years ago while volunteering in a kitchen at an event, and have used it extensively ever since. It works a treat.

    1. And if there’s something really nasty in there, add a sprinkle of dishwasher powder to your simmering pot.

  3. Goodness, Joe, the molten mass photo is giving me flashbacks to my one and only attempt at making crabapple jelly in what was then a brand new enamelled cast iron dutch oven. I very stupidly left it unattended on what I thought was a low simmer and came back to find roiling black lava emitting plumes of smoke. Unfortunately, unlike your saucepan, my dutch oven never truly recovered!

    1. Yep, that makes me remember a dish Mrs. Pastry and I lovingly remember as Ashtray Stew. The circumstances were similar, and the Dutch oven also an expensive enamel job, a Le Creuset. The thing lives on, though the big, cloudy grey-brown patch on its white enamel surface offers a stern reminder to any who would consider leaving the pot unwatched!

      – Joe

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