I have heard multiple times that Haitian food is delicious so I was really excited to cook “H.” I decided to go with two dishes; Griot, a fried pork dish which is probably Haiti’s most famous and Pikliz, a quick pickled cabbage condiment that served alongside most everything in Haiti.
The ingredients for these two recipes are all quite common save two; sour orange juice and Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) peppers. One of the great pleasures of doing this international cooking project in New York City, and one of the greatest pleasures of living in New York City is that you can get your hands on pretty much anything. I got lazy though. It’s been a really busy few weeks and I just didn’t feel like traipsing the city to get my hands on sour orange juice; instead I used Rick Bayless’s tip of 1/2 cup orange juice and 1 cup of lime juice. Then came time to decide what to do about the hot peppers.
As a spicy food lover I’m always eager to eat a fiery dish, but cooking with one of the hottest peppers on the planet struck fear in my heart. I’m a huge klutz and I could easily visualize myself sitting in the emergency room after thoughtlessly rubbing my eye with a hand that had just held the cut peppers. “No,” I thought, “I won’t let fear hold me back. I will be extra careful and take all the necessary precautions. Bring on the peppers.”
I purchased two Habaneros (there were no scotch bonnets) and a pair of rubber gloves, and blasted the theme from Rocky on my iPod… well ok maybe not that last part. All the Pikliz recipes I found called for 6-8 thinly sliced Scotch Bonnet or Habaneros. 6 to 8! As much as I love spicy food that just sounded insane so I decided to go with just one thinly sliced pepper.
My first mistake was buying rubber gloves instead of latex. The gloves were big for my little hands which made the process arduous. I thinly sliced about 3/4 of the pepper, but by the time I got to the upper 3rd, where the seeds are I was annoyed by the gloves and figured I wouldn’t want to use the seeds (the hottest part) anyway so I quit and threw the thin slices of Habanero in with the rest of the ingredients to “quick pickle” over night.
For the Griot I couldn’t seem to get a consensus on what to do with the peppers; some recipes called for one pepper minced, others used half and some wimpy americanized recipes called for just a couple of dashes of hot sauce. Then there were a few recipes that said to just cut the stem off the pepper and throw it in whole thereby making the dish hot, but not lethal. I went with that one. I did actually cut a few slits in the pepper and, once it was inside the bag I used to marinate, squished it a bit hoping some oils would seep out.
The vinegar in the Pikliz neutralized the heat in that pepper. As for the Griot, as soon as I transferred the mixture to a cooking pot I could tell there was no heat. Habeneros are so strong that I’d be able to smell the heat. I decided to remove the pepper, thinly slice it and throw it back in to pot. I’d thrown out the rubber gloves after cutting the first pepper so I instead covered my hands with plastic baggies. Again this made chopping cumbersome and again I only chopped as far as the seeds, fearing to do more and again there wasn’t enough heat.
So hear’s a question; can cooking be a metaphor for my life? Is the lesson hear that I should be more open to risk, more willing to take chances? Nah! I think the lesson here is; buy better latex food prep gloves!
Even with the lack of heat, these dishes were both great so I’m going to give you the Pikliz recipe and the recipes as I intend to make them next time.
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers thinly sliced
4 whole cloves (or a large pinch of ground cloves)
Salt and pepper
3 cups white vinegar
Place all ingredients in an airtight container.
Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Pikliz will last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks since vinegar is a preservative.
2lbs pork shoulder cut in to 1 inch cubes
1 large bell pepper; sliced
1 large onion; diced
4 cloves of garlic; chopped or crushed
1 scotch bonnet or Habanero pepper; finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1.5 cups sour orange juice (or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice)
1/4 cup oil for frying
Place all ingredients except oil in a large sealable plastic bag (or bowl) and refrigerate several hours or over night.
Preheat oven to 375.
Transfer mixture to a dutch oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours until the pork is very tender.
Remove pork chunks from pot and place pot over medium heat with the lid off, allowing the mixture to reduce (there’s not much liquid so this won’t take long).
Meanwhile heat oil in medium saute pan and, working in batches, fry pork chunks until crispy and brown on all sided being very careful as the hot oil will splatter. This can also be done in a deep fryer.
Toss pork back in to pot and serve over rice with Pikliz on the side.
I need more pepper, you wuss!
THE FINAL VERDICT: A-
This recipe would’ve totally earned a solid A had I not been so conservative with the peppers. It was delicious.
The Griot is flavorful and the texture of the pork chunks almost reminds me of ribs; browned and crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. The vegetables in the Pikliz remain bright and crisp and the vinegarey bite cuts through the richness of the pork when eaten together.
Obviously next time I make this I’ll add more hot peppers, but other than that I wouldn’t make any other changes. I love recipes like this where you get so much flavor for so little work.
**Remember Haiti is a place that needs your help! Please consider opening your hearts and your wallets. Two organizations I would recommend are Partners In Health and Fonkoze so check ’em out.