I root for the underdog.
It’s not because I’m one of those old guys who gets all misty-eyed every time Rudy throws the ball extra far and some lame VHS soundtrack swells in the background; if I really wanna get sad I’ll just tromp on down to the frozen food section at my local whatever-mart.
No, I root for the lesser-known stuff because the mostly-known gets boring. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing good or wonderful about getting some really tasty, familiar food. There’s a place in the darker parts of this country (read: Florida) that has a Cuban sandwich I would commit a multitude of crimes for. And I’d do it every. Single. Time. It’s that good.
It’s also repetitive.
You can get good flavor nearly anywhere, but getting the spark? The “holy cow, what is that?” as a side dish to a quality main course? That’s rare, friends. That’s something you only get from being slapped in the face with some food you’ve never, ever heard of before.
I’m giving you that food this week, and it’s called Haitian food.
I’ve heard people rant and rave and spit over Colombian food, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Brazilian, Mexican, every damn type of food you can get with a tilde over the name except for Haitian, and that’s a complete crime. And the reason’s simple: that other stuff has been done to death. It’s still tasty, but it’s been iterated, iterated, and reiterated until it’s been turned into a five dollar special at Applebee’s.
Sure it’s a shame nobody’s tasted the goodness that is Haitian food, but that comes with a nice double-edged sword effect: the stuff is pure. Untouched. There’s no Haitian-Style Goat Nibblers clogging up the chain restaurants, and that’s a good thing. Eat up the stuff; just don’t put it through the copyright wringer over at Strip Mall Menus Incorporated and we can all get along.
—Fresh Beats, Fresh Eats
- Serves 4
red bell pepper
scotch bonnet pepper
clove of garlic
dried djondjon mushrooms (these are apparently hard to get outside of Haiti, so if you can’t find them, just use the earthiest dried mushrooms you can find)
chicken broth (just get however much you need to cook the rice, depending on what kind of rice you’re using)
pork (use whatever cut you prefer, I used chops and they came out great)
- First, the Pikliz. This is the stuff you’re gonna put on the griot to make it really happen.
- Chop up the cabbage, dice the onions, and julienne the carrots. You can dice up some shallot and green or red peppers if you wanna use those too.
- Stick them all in a jar along with the cloves, a teaspoon of salt, and a scotch bonnet.
- Heat the vinegar until it starts to simmer, then pour that in the jar as well.
- Tighten the lid, let it sit for 48 hours, and you’re golden.
- Next, the rice.
- Soak the mushrooms in a small bowl of warm water for half an hour, just enough to cover the mushrooms. It will both smell and look like a bowl of dirt. This is ok.
- Strain the mushrooms and KEEP THE WATER. That’s where all the flavor is, and it’s also where you get that cool, dark color in the rice. Pick out any bits of dirt that are at the bottom of the bowl.
- Heat the oil in a medium pot on medium-high, and mince the garlic, red pepper, and a tablespoon of onion. Throw them in the pot and let them sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the black dirt-water and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Strain the water again, setting the vegetables aside.
- Add chicken broth to the water until you have enough for the rice, then cook it for as long as the little package says.
- Fluff the rice with a fork, stir in the mushrooms, a scotch bonnet, and the other vegetables you just cooked, and let the rice sit on super-low heat while you cook up everything else.
- Next, the good stuff: pork.
- Cut up the pork into bite-sized chunks, about half an inch square.
- Squeeze the citrus in a medium-sized bowl and toss the pork in the juice.
- Put the pork in a container or plastic bag, add the herbs, spices, and a tablespoon of salt, and toss. Let it marinate overnight.
- After the pork’s done marinating, throw it in a big pot and cover with water. Boil it on medium-high until all the water evaporates; it should take around an hour. Normally I’m vehemently against boiling any kind of meat, but after that long-ass monologue up there, I’m not gonna mess with the purity of this stuff. If they say boil, I say how high.
- Once the meat’s done boiling, take it out of the pan and set it aside on a plate.
- Heat some olive oil in the pan, still on medium-high, and fry both sides until brown, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Take it out of the pan and set it aside.
- We’re gonna do the plantains last, because you want those to be hot and crispy as the dickens.
- First, slice the plantains into roughly half-inch slices.
- Put the oil in a big pot and heat it up to medium-high. You want enough oil to completely cover the bottom of your pot, so if a ¼ cup’s not enough, add more.
- Add enough plantain slices to cover the bottom of the pot without crowding them, and fry until the bottoms are brown, about 2-3 minutes. Plantains have a metric crap-ton of sugar in them, so they’re gonna caramelize fast. Keep an eye on those babies before they go from golden brown to tar black.
- Flip, fry for another 2-3 minutes, then let them drain on a few paper towels set on a plate while you do the second batch.
- Once all the plantains are fried, take something heavy and flat (the bottom of a glass works well) and flatten them. You wanna get all the tasty bits out, so if you see un-fried, yellow stuff, you’re doing it right.
- Throw ‘em back in for a second fry, about a minute or two on each side. Take them out, sprinkle some salt on, and let them drain.
- Eat. Eat a lot.