I have never seen a Haitian woman use a recipe, and that includes my mother. I remember the very first time my mom gave me a cooking lesson. She called me in to the kitchen and said something like this: "Today you're going to learn to start cooking. You watch what I do and the next time, you do the same thing."
And that was it. She used no recipes, no measuring spoons, nothing to aid a novice cook with what, exactly, she was trying to do. Just watch and learn, she said, and so that's what I did. But how would I know if I had done it correctly?
The most important thing I learned in that kitchen is that the only way to know if it tastes right is to taste it. Sounds perfectly logical, right? It's a little harder to do in practice because the thought of tasting something that just came off of raw meat sounds a little sickening (especially if the whole concept is new), but she was right. If it doesn't taste good before it's cooked, it certainly won't taste any better after. At least before it's cooked, you have the opportunity to fix it.
It's been a lifelong dream of mine to write a cookbook with my sister. Haitian food is so good, but it's really hard to come across unless you know a Haitian. I know of one Haitian cookbook written in English, and I honestly think we can do better than that. Granted, with the internet, you can certainly find tons of recipes and YouTube videos on the subject, but I still think I have something to share.
The biggest problem with the recipe idea is that I never write anything down. How do you write a cookbook if you don't have any recipes?
So that's my new project. For the purposes of this blog, each week I'm going to make a classic Haitian recipe and actually pay enough attention to what I'm putting in it to write it down. Having said that, I still suggest you taste it as you're going along and make sure it suits you!
There's only one other problem. Most Haitian recipes are nameless. Chicken is just chicken; sauce is just sauce. For the purposes of this blog, I will be attempting to name the recipes I'm providing (and hopefully I'll get pretty creative, but I wouldn't bank on it).
With that, I give you the very first thing I learned to cook.
Creole Chicken (Haitian Chicken in Sauce)
Ingredients: Chicken: 6 chicken drumsticks 1/2 lime 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning 1 teaspoon black pepper 3/4 teaspoon Creole Seasoning 2 teaspoons dried basil 1 teaspoon chicken base 1 teaspoon seasoned salt 2 large cloves garlic, minced 3 cups of water Sauce: 2 teaspoons tomato paste 1 cup chicken stock (from the cooked chicken) 1/4 green bell pepper, sliced 1/4 red bell pepper, sliced 1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Directions: 1. Clean the chicken by rubbing the lime over all the drumsticks. Rinse with cold water. 2. Add all the ingredients to a small pot and toss together. Make sure all pieces are evenly covered. 3. Add the three cups of water and cook on high heat for 25 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Add water as necessary to keep from drying. 4. Preheat oven to 350° F. 5. In a small sauce pot, add olive oil and tomato paste over medium heat. 6. Cook the tomato paste until it is somewhat melted (about a minute). Use a spoon to spread around the pot. 7. Add salt and Creole Seasoning and stir well. 8. Add remaining ingredients one at a time and keep stirring. 9. Let sauce cook for 3-5 minutes. 10. Add the cooked chicken and sauce to an oven-safe pan and bake for 15-20 minutes.