Cow Foot Soup – Belize and Caribbean

Cow foot soup is a traditional dish of Belize that is still eaten regularly by the Belizean people. In fact, on a short 15-minute walk to San Ignacio’s farmer’s market, my husband and I saw four restaurants with “daily specials” signs advertising cow’s foot soup. By the time I saw that fourth sign I already knew what I’d be cooking up later in the day. With my grocery list in-hand, we meandered through the vegetable vendors searching for the freshest of ingredients for this delicious and proud soup of the Caribbean.

Cow Foot Soup … Really?

Yes, really! If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know by now that I’m a soupaholic. Barely a week goes by – regardless of season – when I haven’t indulged my soup-making zen. I first sampled the savory masterpiece of cow’s foot soup on a trip to Jamaica in 2013. I fell in love immediately, but for whatever reason, didn’t challenge myself to duplicate that special richness of slow cooked beef foot, leg and vegetables once back at home. Until now.

Like many traditional dishes around the world, cow foot soup takes advantage of less desirable cuts of meat. Many times the feet and legs of a cow were considered leftovers after the butchering was complete. The premium cuts were sold to those with better means and farmers utilized these leftover cuts to feed their own families. Consequently, cow foot soup became a regular dish shared at the tables of the less fortunate.

cow foot soup

Our local butcher saws our cow leg to our custom size specifications. You’ll want the pieces no wider than two inches so that they cook faster and fit more readily in a soup bowl. Image credit: Greg Todd

What Makes Cow Foot Soup So Special?

In a word … collagen. That sticky, gelatinous, sumptuous result of stewing beef bones and cartilage low and slow until just a spoonful coats you mouth and tongue and makes your lips feel better than a $50 lip balm. Throw some fresh vegetables into that stew pot and four hours or so later you have one of the richest and well-developed flavor profiles you’ll ever experience. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to give it a try.

cow foot soup

Each one of these ingredients for my cow foot soup was bought fresh from the farmer’s market in San Ignacio, Belize.

Cher’s Caribbean Cow Foot Soup Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Four or five 2” pieces of cow foot and/or leg
  • 1 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped (divided in half)
  • 1 cup celery, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 habanero, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. whole cloves
  • ½ tsp. anise seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
  • ½ tsp. whole allspice, crushed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 2 green plantains (or 2 cups yam) peeled and sliced
cow foot soup

This batch of cow foot soup was made with a slightly different method than the recipe I’m offering below. In this version, the everything is sauteed together before the water is added. This shows the beautiful cuts of cows’ feet glistening with all the herbs and spices. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Cooking and Serving Instructions:

  1. Wash the cow feet in cool, running water until all residue is removed. With a small, sharp knife, remove any gray connective tissue, skin or hair that may remain.
  2. Place the cow feet into a large stock pot and cover with 10 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and continue boiling. As your bones boil and release their impurities, frothy pillows will accumulate on the surface. Carefully skim them off with a spoon and discard. Once those pillows stop forming, you are ready to start adding additional ingredients.
  4. Meanwhile, add the vegetable oil to a small skillet and heat to medium.
  5. Add half the onions, celery and garlic along with a dash of salt and pepper. Sauté until the onions are transparent – about ten minutes.
  6. Add the habanero and sauté for an additional two minutes. (Stand back from the stove so that you do not breathe in the steam from the cooking habaneros.) Remove from heat and set aside until your pot skimming is complete.
  7. Once all the impurities have been removed from your pot, add your sautéed vegetables and the next nine ingredients (excluding the carrots and plantain).
  8. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer for 3-1/2 hours, checking occasionally and adding more water if necessary to maintain your original volume.
  9. Add your carrots and plantain to the pot and stir. Taste the broth at this point and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
  10. Cook on medium heat until carrots and plantain are your desired doneness – about 20 minutes. (The greener your plantains are, the more time they will take to cook. If you like your carrots crisp-tender, add them five to ten minutes after you add the plantain.) Adjust seasoning if necessary.
cow foot soup

Your finished product should look something like this. Don’t be afraid to get a little messy when eating it – using your fingers is perfectly fine! Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Serve one piece of cow’s foot per person in a bowl with the broth and vegetables. Accompany with cornbread or tortillas. Everything except the bones and whole spices are meant to be eaten. To truly enjoy the essence of cow foot soup, be sure to eat the cartilage, fat and skin as well.