What Is Potlikker? For Starters, Powerful

Potlikker (or “pot liquor”) is simple enough to describe—it’s the brothy liquid gold left behind after boiling greens and beans—and its roots in Southern culinary traditions and deep heritage run. For Nashville-born chef Carla Hall, potlikker is more than a delicious by-product of braising; It’s a cultural bridge between preconceived notions of soul food and what the cuisine represents today.

Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

Carla Hall’s cookbook is a available now.

“When people think about soul food, they think of heavy dishes like gravies, macaroni and cheese, and candied yams,” Hall says. “I want to highlight potlikker as a cultural connection to soul food.” An ingredient whose use sheds a light on the complex racialized history of Southern cooking, potlikker was once valued only by diligent enslaved Africans who saved the nourishing broth for their families after cooking greens. Eventually, potlikker became so popular that in 1931 an Atlanta newspaper editor stirred a nearly monthlong public debate involving the governor of Louisiana and whether cornbread should be dunked or crumbled into it.

photograph by Scott Suchman

“Potlikker was so much a part of growing up,” Hall says. “Most people don’t analyze what they’re eating as a child.” Now, in her cooking, writing, and eating, “I intellectualize it.” Here Hall shares her personal approach to making potlikker as an intentional first step to imbuing a number of knockout dishes with layers of flavor. Think of these delicious, aromatic-packed potlikkers as ultra-concentrated broths, each one becoming a base ingredient for two different hearty comfort recipes.

A bright Fennel Potlikker finds its home in both a lemony vegetable bowl with barley and velvety shrimp and grits. A take on the classic Country Ham Potlikker becomes the base of a luscious gravy for smothered pork chops and a zippy vinaigrette for a sweet and savory apple and bean salad. A rich smoked Paprika and Sun-Dried-Tomato Potlikker buoys brothy orecchiette with savory-sweet turnips and braises hearty chicken thighs.

Through these recipes Hall celebrates the origins of potlikker as an ingredient born of thrift, nutrition, and necessity. “I want [people] to see that it’s accessible,” Hall says. “Once you make the potlikker, everything else is easy.”

Photograph by Emma Fishman, food styling by Micah Morton, prop styling by Stephanie Yeh

Fennel is rarely used in broths because its anise flavor is so strong. Here Hall doubles down on those licorice notes by adding Pernod, an anise-based liqueur that’s a natural pairing with seafood and vegetables. Use this potlikker as a deeply flavorful base for these two dishes, or anything that would benefit from an intensely aromatic broth.

Photograph by Emma Fishman, food styling by Micah Morton, prop styling by Stephanie Yeh

This plant-based potlikker pulls tons of umami from a handful of pantry staples. Whole sun-dried tomatoes will work just fine; simply drain them (if needed) and finely chop before adding. Use it to ramp up the flavor in vegetarian recipes like this brothy orecchiette pasta or braised chicken thighs.

Photograph by Emma Fishman, food styling by Micah Morton, prop styling by Stephanie Yeh

Carla Hall’s deeply savory take on potlikker is made by slowly simmering country ham with garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. In it, country ham is dry-cured and often smoked, resulting in a very concentrated flavor. Smoked ham hocks will give similar intensity to this savory broth. Hall uses this potlikker as a gravy to up the ham factor in pork dishes and to build a game-changing salad dressing.


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