A few years ago, I described our Haitian cuisine as a labor of both love and patience. Today’s okra stew definitely puts those skills to the test. Packed with flavors of blue crab, djondjon, fresh okra and a duo of regular and salt-cured pork feet, this stew will have you behind the stove for quite a few hours as you will find out in the lines below. Don’t let that thought scare you away, however. Just one spoonful of this complex yet simple dish will make all those efforts worth it.
Your scenario that day will probably include the steps below, which I tried to time to help you plan ahead:
Enter the kitchen at around 10:00 in the morning
At that time, cover your salt-cured meat chunks with clean water. Let them soak until cooking time, which will happen around 1:00pm, at which point you will drain the water out.
Now’s also a good time to cleanse those blue crabs. Remove their back flap and run them through water. Rub each crab with some lime and set aside for later.
At about 11:00, prepare your seafood broth using shrimp shells
I always make it a point to save shrimp shells when I peel those raw crustaceans. Paired with our Haitian black djondjon mushroom, they make for a rich earthy broth with a unique flavor and color.
To prepare your broth, combine shrimp shells, djondjon, garlic heads, pepper, salt, paprika, cayenne and piment bouc in a pot filled with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Let simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let your broth cool completely. Doing so helps the flavors get bolder.
Now it’s time to step away from the kitchen for a quick hour-long break.
At 1:00 o’clock, strain and cook your pork
To speed up the cooking process, I recommend tossing salt-cured and regular meat chunks in a pressure cooker filled with water, bitter orange juice, a bunch of thyme, whole peppercorn and of course the inevitable piment bouc. Pressure cook the meat for about 30 minutes or until fork tender. Strain the cooking juice and set aside for the stew.
If you don’t own a pressure cooker, don’t freak out. You can use a regular pot. Just remember to factor in a longer cooking time.
It is now about 2:00 o’clock and you’re finally ready to prepare that okra stew
This step might seem like the most tedious one. You will spend quite some time in front of the stove browning, seasoning, tasting and simmering on low heat. You might be tempted to increase the heat so as to speed up the process, but don’t. Remember that this okra stew requires both patience and love.
In a heated thick bottom pan, add about a tablespoon of oil, just enough to cook some chopped onions, garlic and bell pepper until translucent. Add the strained meat chunks to the pot and brown on all sides until a thin crust forms on your meat.
Incorporate your okra and toss to cover with the meat juices. For this dish in particular, keep the okra whole, only trimming the stems. As they cook, they will release their dreaded sliminess which will help thicken the stew. Once your okra start losing their vibrancy, about 15 minutes after adding them, slowly incorporate the seafood broth and meat cooking juice one ladle at a time. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Let simmer for a few minutes before adding your cleaned blue crabs, about 30 minutes into the cooking process. As they cook, your crabs will turn a vibrant orange. Reduce the heat, and let your stew simmer for about 45 minutes stirring occasionally and tasting and adjusting seasoning as it thickens. Once it has reached the desired consistency, which should neither be too liquidy nor dry, turn off the heat. Your stew is now ready.
But don’t serve it just yet. Resist the urge to eat your stew right away. Allow it to cool for another 30 minutes before serving so that the flavors fully develop.
As the clock hits 5:00pm, summon everyone to the table. It’s go time! Serve your warm stew with white rice.
Congratulations, you’ve just prepared your first blue crab and djondjon infused okra stew, a popular Haitian food.
Calalou djondon, Haitian-style okra stew
For the broth
- 6 cups of water
- shells from 1lbs of shrimp
- 1 piment bouc
- 1 tsp whole peppercorn
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 1 bunch of thyme
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup djondjon
For the pork feet
- 1 lb pork feet
- ½ lb salt-cured pork feet soaked and rinsed
- 1 bitter orange juice
- 1 whole piment bouc
- ½ tsp whole peppercorn
- 1 bunch of fresh thyme
- water to cover
For the okra stew
- cooked pork meat
- 1 tbsp oil
- ½ onion chopped
- 5 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 medium sized bell pepper chopped
- 5 medium sized blue crabs cleaned
- 4 cups calalou stems cut off
- 2 cups prepared djondjon broth
- Juice from the pork feet
For the broth
- Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil
- Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes
- Remove from heat and let cool completely
- Strain the liquid and measure two (2) cups for the stew
For the pork feet
- Add the soaked and rinsed salt-cured pork feet and regular meat to a pressure cooker
- Cover with water
- Season with bitter orange juice, piment bouch, whole peppercorn and thyme
- Pressure cook for about 30 minutes until fork tender
- Strain the juice, preserve and set aside
For the okra stew
- In a thick bottom pan, heat the oil
- Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and cook until translucent
- Incorporate the pork meat and cook until a thin brown crust forms
- Toss the okra in there and cook mixing constantly until the vegetables lose their vibrancy and start releasing their juice, about 15-20 minutes
- Ladle the strained broth and meat juices into the mix
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed
- Add the blue crabs to the pot and let simmer on low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Once the mixture thickens turn off the heat and allow to cool
- Serve your okra stew warm with some white rice