Disclaimer. As a Haitian-American woman, I rank in the lower percentile of women who actually cook Haitian food on a regular. Scratch that. I cook next to NO Haitian food in the home. Don’t come for me or try to take my Haitian card. I’m just keeping it real. With a great cookbook and proper tutelage, I’ve tried my hand at it over the years—but yeah. We not all able.
That being said, I hear that the word out in these ‘white washed streets’ is that the CDC, also known as the Center for DISEASE CONTROL has put out a warning that we should NOT, and I repeat NOT wash our chicken. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Stare blankly onto my cellphone screen.
One thing my late mother made sure I learned was to clean my meat. I was immediately triggered back to memories of a large bag of chicken (with the skin still on it!) that I’d watch her unpack. Once she did that, I was responsible for cleaning out every crevice of every thigh meat of the gooey red stuff that was caught up in between the bones. Then on to stripping the drumsticks of their fat was another task. By the time the chicken was done, it had lost ten pounds of fat and was ready to be cleaned. The smell of chicken under your nails is no joke! Lemon and more lemon would be the only thing to take it out.
Again, I’m only speaking for the Haitian culture when I say that what we consider “cleaning meat” is nothing to be played with. But for most, if not all of the cultures in Hispanic and Caribbean households—yo we don’t play about our meat cleaning! My timeline is lit with Trini, Black and Peruvian friends (to name a few) getting a good laugh about this CDC Game of Thrones “white walker” mess!
Some of you may remember my Thanksgiving 2018 Facebook post about the turkey that nearly took me out. The anxiety of cleaning a bird that size! To properly do my ancestors justice. To save face during the holiday season. There was no showing up with a pale turkey that hadn’t bathed in the sink in vinegar, orange, lemon and then heated through with a hot bath before being seasoned to perfection. By the time that turkey was done with me, it had confused holiday prep with a pelvic exam!
Suffice to say CDC, we over here in the banana republic will continue to rinse and utilize citrus and acidic products to kill the germs of your supposed Grade A meat. Do not ask me the science behind it. Just know I do it because my maman told me to; and because Wakanda would kick me out! I just cooked a rack of lamb the other day. Do you think that I just rinsed it off and threw it in the oven?! Pitit! Child! All the Haitian mothers alive would come and take turns smacking me with a wooden spoon for my insolence!
There’s no getting around a perfectly rinsed and seasoned meat. Who does not recall the grocery bags doubling as ziplock bags in the freezer? Each perfectly proportioned with the right amount of meat for each of that week’s meals. Each drenched in seasonings that would become the essence of the sauces and gravy that would make the meal that much tasty.
But wait! It doesn’t stop there! This is where I think some folks get it wrong. When my mama had me done with the meat, she would have me take Clorox and wash down all counters and the entire sink with nothing but hot tap water. Yeah yeah. I know we trying to “seventh generation” our way into heaven but I’m not giving up Clorox or Fabuloso. You can hang that notion up.
By this time, meat cleaning in my mom’s kitchen had evolved to using gloves as part of the process. Once upon a time, a Haitian mami’s battle scars were seen in her raised cuticles and raw hands. Thank goodness my mama knew that a college education and raw hands would not be a good fit.
During those meat cleaning sessions, I’d mumble (in my head) all the while wondering what my friends were doing on a Friday or Saturday afternoon while I was in this non AC kitchen (or house for that matter) laboring like a Hebrew slave. I’d promise myself to hire a chef when I grew up and I’d never have to be in the kitchen ever again. Turns out many of us, were doing Saturday ‘lesiv’ (chores) in lock step. You can tell a lot about a Haitian-American woman based on her level of cleanliness. Some of us had tyrants for mothers!
Mama would eventually release me from my duties once the kitchen was up to her expectations. Hindsight being what it is, she didn’t really have me in the kitchen beyond the sous chef role. Thus, why there are gaps in my Haitian culinary skills. I’d go back to my books or whatever, happy to escape the kitchen. “Sigh” is another word for regret ya’ll. Maybe she knew that I’d turn out to be a cookbook type of cook. Or that Haitian food would be the foundation but not the “all” of my palate. She figured as long as I knew how to get the first part done, no meat regardless of the recipe would stand a chance in my kitchen. My kitchen. I’m grown ya’ll!
I tear up just thinking of those years as a child, watching her pressure cook meat, grate coconuts for the sos poi (bean sauce). She’d eventually create short cuts but her effort and diligence in the process remained the same. No food poisoning in her kitchen! These days, my lemon juice and sour orange comes in a bottle. No shame in my game. I cannot be rolling lemons around on the counter to generate the extra juice for meat cleaning; it’s all about pouring for me.
So CDC, spare us the meat cleaning instructions, or lack thereof. Entire developing nations have managed to survive salmonella and other food borne diseases just fine. If memory serves me correct, diseases have been INTRODUCED not generated in third world countries.
The children of those people are still doing just fine without your well intentioned (but thoroughly misguided) input.