Friday, March 12, 2010

Booty: Fire Up The Boucan

Our habit of barbecuing has become synonymous with summer and now even spring. I'm brought to mind (as I look out my window at the two feet of snow in the yard) of the recent "winter's over" commercials where the mountain man-esque guy in parka and flannel PJs stumbles into his neighbor's yard looking confused. "Get this guy a burger!" someone among the manly men out by the grill yells. Of course that outdoor, smokey flavor will rouse the big bear from the throes of hibernation. I get it. Though winter may not be over where I live, it never really showed up in some places. One of those spots is the birthplace of the whole idea of barbecue as we know it.

The word barbecue comes to us from old Hispaniola where the word barbacoa was born. Whether or not this can be called a Haitian word proper (as Webster's indicates) is debatable but it is certainly Spanish. The idea comes from the boucan which was a tall framework of sticks over which meat was smoked by the native Arawak of the island. The predominantly French indentured servants who escaped to Hispaniola adopted the local custom and soon they were called - say it with me - boucaniers.

But what were they smoking on that boucan? Most often it was pig. By the early 1600s there were two types of swine on the island.

The native piggy was called sanglier by the Frenchmen and was a type of smallish, black wild boar. The things were ferocious and frequently slathered with blood from recent kills, thus the name (sang meaning blood; sanglant meaning bloody). As an aside, these boars are virtually extinct in Haiti now. They were wiped out by Catholic officials in order to end their use as an offering to the lady warrior Erzulie Danto and thus curb the practice of voudon.

The second type of bacon on the hoof was a domesticated pig brought by Spanish settlers in the 16th century that went feral when the Spaniards retreated from the island. These guys were known as cochon marron: runaway pig.

OK. So you've got your sanglier and your cochon marron all dressed out. Good. Now what? Here's your recipe for relatively authentic cochon boucan:

Slather your pork (any raw cut will do) with a marinade of lime juice, salt, pepper and all spice. This last is probably the French piment of the original recipes which was doubtless just a combination of whatever herbs were available on the island at the time, so feel free to deviate widely here. If you've got a little Madeira or port, which our intrepid boucaniers would have taken from Spanish ships, throw that in too.

The marinaded pork should sit for an hour or overnight in the fridge. Now drape the pork over a hot grill and turn regularly until cooked through (no medium rare pork, Brethren). Traditional fresh boucan was eaten as a feast while the uneaten portions were left to smoke into a kind of jerky. It was mandatory to drink to excess at these soirees but rum would not have been available. More Madeira would do nicely. Alternatively, an agave tequila comes pretty close to the boucanier "home brew". Have your Advil handy.

Enjoy grilling season, Brethren. Whether it's burgers, chicken or runaway pig, take a moment to remember the original boucaniers and their generous mentors in grilling, the Arawak people.

6 comments:

Daggar said...

I've heard that, even on islands that were not settled, the Spanish had a habit of deliberately releasing domestic pigs onto many islands they came across. The idea was that it would provide provisions-on-the-hoof to any ships that stopped there in the future.

Don't have a source to back that up, though.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Daggar! It sounds very plausible given that the Spanish considered the New World their personal property at the time.

I'm sure it never occured to them that anyone else would show up.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Mmmm... pork. Oh sure, Pauline, some "magical" animal. We'll have to try this marinade recipe, but unfortunately, it will be a couple of months until it's BBQ season here in Alaska. Oh well, at least we get to "spring forward" this weekend, right? Oh yeah, that will not help things... never mind.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Not just pork, mon ami. Cochon marron.

Timmy! said...

Mmmm... Cochon marron.

Tor Hershman said...

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george harrison pirate song
you'll LOL