Tchaka, a family tradition
Pretend today is Saturday. Now dim the lights. Better yet, light a tèt gridap in a room featuring a straw bench. Ok perfect. Now let’s talk.
The picture painted above is the one that comes to mind when I think of this tchaka casserole. Could it be because it depicts the exact atmosphere of eating this family favorite?
If we’re talking about my childhood, it most definitely does. Tchaka night was the excuse for my grandmother to bring the family together at her house. Those nights happened exclusively on Saturday evenings, if memory serves me right. It was always dark out. My grandmother hosted us in her dimly lit living room, which had a quiet and peaceful family atmosphere.
That casserole was another one of her many specialties, and a favorite among her children and grandchildren. She only prepared it on special occasions, however. According to her, tchaka required daylong work. She couldn’t prepare it on a whim. If we had to have it, we had to place our order in advance. And it would take her about a month to deliver.
Why such a long timeline, you may ask?
I can’t quite give you the right answer. Now that I am used to seeing my mom prepare it on random Saturdays, I don’t quite understand why my grandmother made it sound like a time-consuming dish. I can however tell you that we cook the ingredients separately before combining them. The resulting casserole must then simmer for two hours or more for the flavors to completely develop. While this may sound like a long process, it isn’t a tedious one.
Tchaka is a red beans, dried corn and heavily smoked salt-cured pork meat casserole. Each of those main ingredients have their own cooking time which explains why we prep them separately. That preparation does not keep you on your toes all day long, however. This dish does not require one to stand by the stove for hours as I was convinced my grandmother did throughout my childhood. The easiness of this dish begs a few questions.
Why did my grandmother’s tchaka sound like a tedious task? Couldn’t she have prepared it more often for us?
As I have mentioned before, she salt-cured the pork herself. That might be one reason why she saved this dish for special occasions. Then again, maybe that was her secret ingredient. She was building anticipation among us. Perhaps tchaka was her secret weapon to get her children and grandchildren to come spend time with her and appreciate her more than they already did.
Whatever her reasons might have been, we will always remember her famous tchaka nights.
I have yet to eat a tchaka that tastes better than hers. Yes I know, I also said that about her bonbon sirop recipe. But it’s true, my grandmother’s cooking has to be the best I ever tasted. I will never stop repeating it. So, at the risk of being redundant, I will say it again. When it comes to tchaka, no one else’s ever seems to taste quite right.
This story was initially published on November 5th, 2014. The 2019 update includes improved recipe instructions.
Tchaka, a Haitian bean and corn casserole
The secret to a successful tchaka is in the salt-cured pork meat and the simmering. Make sure to taste it often, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- 2 cups of dried corn
- 2 cups of red beans
- 2 salt cured pig feet sliced
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh parsley
- 1 piment bouc
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 medium onion
- 1 bell pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sour oranges juice
- 1 juice of lime
- Pepper to taste
Cooking the beans and corn
Soak the beans and corn in water at room temperature for about 10 hours (overnight)
Drain and rinse. Discard the water.
Transfer the beans and corn to a pressure cooker
Add the parsley, garlic, thyme, onion, bell pepper and peppercorn
Cover with water
Cook halfway (about 15 minutes). Don’t fully cook them, as the cooking process will continue once all the ingredients are combined.
Cooking the pig feet
Soak and rinse the salted pig feet with water
Transfer them to a pressure cooker
Cover with water
Add some thyme sprigs, parsley, garlic, peppercorn and sour orange juice
Cover and cook until fork tender (about 30 to 45 minutes)
Drain. Preserve the cooking water, you will use it as broth.
Combining the ingredients
Brown the drained pig feet in a thick bottom pot
Slowly incorporate the preserved pig feet broth
Mix in the cooked corn and beans with their cooking water
Add the bay leaves and whole piment bouc
Season with ground pepper to taste
Simmer on low for about an hour or two until your tchaka thickens
Taste and adjust seasoning as needed
Finish with the juice of one lime
Enjoy as is by the spoonful
The success of this recipe relies mostly on the pork meat that needs to be salt-cured for its flavor to come out. My grandmother didn't add pumpkin to her tchaka, but, some people do. If you wish to add some to yours, puree a cooked piece and combine it with the previously cooked ingredients before simmering.