The ultimate chow chow recipe

13.12.16 | Recipe by Renz

The perfect topping for your Christmas ham is this Caribbean chow chow. It is the ideal condiment for pairing. It is a pickled vegetable mix combined with a mustard base. The perfect holiday condiment.

A serving dish of chow chow after it has been cured and cooled.

There are some things that just need to be in your house at Christmas time. I guess we would call them Christmas staples. Without them, it wasn't really Christmas.

This relish-like condiment is one of those staples.

Is it possible to eat ham without having a little relish to accompany it?

This is a must-have on the breakfast table once the ham is there. Ham sandwiches on Christmas morning need fresh bread, with a dollop of chow chow on it. Without it, it just wouldn't be right.

This recipe for making Trinidad chow chow uses everyday vegetables that have been brined and then simmered in a mustard base giving you that perfect kick to top a variety of options.


What is chow chow?

Chow chow is pickled vegetables in a sauce. Why is it called chow chow I am not sure? I actually tried to research it but did not find anything.

It is also called piccalilli in some other countries.

The taste is tart since it is a mustard base condiment.

The process for this relish is to brine your vegetables and then simmer them down in a base of flavor.

Though I keep mentioning ham, because it is the popular meat of choice in Trinidad and Tobago at the time, this can easily be used on sandwiches, with fried meats, and on hot dogs (my favorite).

I no longer eat ham so I've had to find alternatives to continue enjoying this deliciousness.

What is chow chow piccalilli made of?

The good thing about making this relish at home is that we can adjust the combination of vegetables to your liking.

So here are the things I like having in mine:

  • Sweet peppers.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Sweet onion.
  • Carrot.
  • Cloves.
  • Pimento peppers (optional).
  • Turmeric powder.
  • Sugar - you can use granulated or brown sugar.
  • Vinegar.
  • Mustard - you can use plain mustard but honey or dijon mustard can also be used for additional flavor.
  • Cornstarch - you use this to help thicken the sauce. If you have corn flour you can use this also.
  • Water.
  • Salt - I prefer to use kosher salt to make my brine but you can use regular table salt also.


Deep pot
Large deep bowl

Process of creating for creating relish

Preparing this is pretty easy. I've gone ahead and broken up the process into sections.

Prepping the vegetables

Clean the vegetables of any leaves or debris they may have collected from storage. Then chop them up into small, uniform sizes.

In a large bowl, mix water and salt till salt is dissolved. Add the chopped vegetables and make sure it gets covered by the liquid. Let this sit for at least an hour. It can sit overnight.

Making the mustard base

On medium-high heat in a deep pot, whisk together the turmeric, sugar, cloves, sugar, vinegar, mustard, and cornstarch.

We want it whisked till it starts to boil, making sure that we break up any lumps that may form.

Lower the stove down to simmer, and continue to whisk. Do this for about ten minutes.

Now strain the mixture to remove the cloves and add them back to the pot. You can also just try to remove the cloves with a spoon if you have the patience.

A full bowl of chow chow ready to be served.

Creating the chow chow

Drain the vegetables from the brine, and give it a washer over to remove any excess salt. Then combine them and the mustard liquid in the pot.

Give it a good stir to combine well and let that come to a high boil, lower the temperature to a simmer and allow the mixture to thicken. Give it a stir occasionally to make sure it's not sticking.

Once thickened up and at a nice relish texture (some liquid but not runny) remove from the heat. It took me about 20 minutes to simmer.

Best way to store chow chow relish

The best way to keep this fresh is to store it in an airtight container.

Once removed from the stove and cooled for a little, add the mixture to a good, clean jar that has a tight seal. I love using the Ball canning jars for just about anything I require to be kept long.

Once cooled all the way down, I then close it and leave it in the fridge.

This keeps in the fridge for up to three months. When using, make sure to use a clean spoon to take it out so as to not contaminate it.

Mustardy chow chow in a glass serving dish.

Adapt this relish to your own taste

The good thing about making this at home yourself is that you can adjust the ingredients to what you have on hand or what you prefer. I love making my own chow chow so I can use vegetables I love to eat, versus being stuck with the store brand of whatever they choose to throw in.

Here are some other ingredients I've seen included in relishes:

  • Green tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Pearl onions
  • Bodi beans
  • Carrots
  • Fresh ginger
  • Jalapenos 
  • Lime juice
  • Green mangoes

Do you have Christmas staples in your house? Or country?

There is no Caribbean Christmas without:


And here are some other Caribbean condiments: