Haitian Griot and Djondjon rice with Fried Plaintains and Pikliz
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-ass 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 shit. 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 shit, 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.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced onion
- ¾ cup 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)
- 1 cup white rice
- Chicken broth (just get however much you need to cook the rice, depending on what kind of rice you’re using)
- 1.5 lbs of pork (use whatever cut you prefer, I used chops and they came out great)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 orange
- 1 lime
- 2 plantains (duh)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper
- 2 cups green cabbage
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 cup peas
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 4 cloves
- 1 green or red bell pepper (optional)
- 1 shallot (optional)
Here’s what you do:
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. Dice the shallots and green or red peppers if you’re using those too.
Stick them all in a jar along with the cloves, salt, and 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 chop the onion, garlic, and red pepper. 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, scotch bonnet, and other vegetables, 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 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 fuck 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 shit-ton of sugar in them, so they’re gonna caramelize fast. Keep an eye on those fuckers before they go from golden brown to tire necklace victim 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.
All that’s left is to eat, and throw on some beats. This week it’s a classic: Tin Tin Deo, played by Dizzy Gillespie:
I ain’t mad at ya, people. These days there’s just as many people getting all iffy about stealing other cultures as there are people getting mad when you eat nothing but Italian for 3 years, so I can’t blame you if you try to split the difference and order whatever exotic-sounding thing the local burrito place tried to market to you this week.
But now that you know it’s out there, you just lost your excuse. Every night from here on out you lazily order in the same pad thai you get every single damn time you pick up the phone is a night you’re not diving into a completely different pool of flavor.
Quit eating the obvious and put on some fins. It’s swimming season, damnit. Time to get out of the kiddie pool.
See you next time.