This is going to be another “back in the day” story. We first went to Haiti in 1976, the year of our marriage. My husband had been a peace corps volunteer for 3 years in Chad and Niger. I, well, my grandfather took me to the dog races in Tijuana when I was 5 years old…
Baby Doc was in power when we arrived, or at least his mother was, and I was dazzled by this unique society; a little French, a little African, but all Creole. Voodoo, merengue dancing and Barbancourt rum ruled! As foreigners from America, we were welcomed with open arms. I will never forget my first real tour overseas, made memorable by friends that we still have today.
My husband was assigned to Les Cayes, a southern town on the coast of Haiti; at this time about 12 hours from the capitol of Port Au Prince on very bad roads. I mean! We had to ford a few rivers, getting stuck a couple of times but were towed, pushed, whatever it took, by the friendly and courteous locals of the different towns.
On arriving in Les Cayes, we were installed in a house whose doors didn’t go all the way to the floor and whose walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. The walls were okay but the doors allowed tarantulas to enter at will. And they did. Electricity was intermittent and the frequent lack of running water would sometimes send us to the river to bathe; but what the heck , we were young.
Night life. In the town center, there was an ice house that supplied ice to the town. Inside there was a small bar with 3 tables lined up in front. The ice house or La Glaciere became our hang out on the weekends where we would sip beer and eat griot http://atomic-temporary-17826715.wpcomstaging.com/2011/01/27/haitian-griot/, sold by a passing lady who carried the griot on a tray, balanced on her head. You could also order whiskey or rum; 1/4 of a bottle, 1/2 of a bottle or the whole bottle.
The table nearest the bar was always occupied by 4 -6 older men, in deep discussion, with whole bottles of whiskey and rum on the table. We later found out that these were coffee exporters. Seated among them was the richest man in the south of Haiti, Edmond Pierre. These men didn’t pay at La Glaciere; they signed.
Long story short. Edmond Pierre, about 70 years old, took us under his wing. He took us to the outlying islands on his African Queen-like boat, he took us to his hunting lodge where we met 2 future Haitian presidents, he introduced us to the first families in Les Cayes AND he got us signing rights at La Glaciere. It was on his boat that we first tasted chiquetaille.
Chiquetaille, as we knew it, was eaten as a cocktail hors d’oeuvre on bread. Like tuna but not.
In Haiti you can order chiquetaille from the bakery but you have to plan ahead. The vegetables and fish must sit in the olive oil and vinegar for at least 4 days. Those who know say that it should sit outside of the refrigerator for the 4 days but I could never make myself do that. I’ve always refrigerated it and taken it out a few hours before serving to let it warm up to room temperature. Your call.
1 lb of salted cod
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups of young green beans, cut in half, vertically
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow or red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 green jalapeno with seeds or 2 scotch bonnets, thinly sliced
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 or 4 whole cloves
Salt and pepper
Soak the cod in cold water in the refrigerator for 24 hours, changing the water 3 times. In a large pot, bring to boil enough water to cover the fish and boil for about 20 minutes. Drain in a vegetable strainer and when cool, remove skin, bones and any unsightly fish parts. Shred by hand.
Mix the shredded fish with the vegetables, olive oil, cloves, salt, pepper and vinegar. Refrigerate for at least 4 days. Serve spread on baguette slices for cocktails or as a salad with lettuce, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs.
Beverage suggestion: Rum punch made with Barbancourt rum. Three star.