Smoked Herring Chiquetaille Haitian Style

A breakfast plate of chiquetaille d’hareng or smoked herring and avocado with cassava bread, artisanal crackers and baguette.

I am a firm believer of always having pantry staples on hand. You never know when you need to whip up a little something at a moment’s notice. It’s always a good idea to also have a few readymade items which can be used easily used to create a snack plate or a quick meal in little or no time. As a cook and avid baker, I always make pastries and keep extra ones to freeze for use at a later date. I can then bake them when I need them, and serve them hot and fresh. I also have a myriad of preserves that I make and other tasty items on hand for enjoying or serving when friends come over. Things such as dips, preserves, jellies and the like always come in handy. You can easily pair them with various hard and soft cheeses and charcuterie and they are well appreciated. It’s such a good thing when you can count on these useful pantry finds to offer an unannounced visitor or a ravenous family member searching for a snack in between meals.

A trio of homemade sauces: pepper jelly, apricot cardamom jam and banana jam.

In Haïti, a bottle of chiquetaille is one of those foods which is great to have on hand. Not only is it an absolutely tasty morsel when served on crackers, toast or fresh rolls, but it can be served at any time of the day or for any circumstance. The closest thing to this dish that I have ever tasted would be the Jamaican Solomon Gundy. However, chiquetaille d’hareng is different in that it is saucier and not a  paste like consistency as is the Solomon Gundy. Each preparation is satisfying in its own way, but I am partial to my Haitian style recipe as I feel it has more depth of character. Chiquetaille can be found in Haiti sold in many supermarkets. I always find a homemade recipe better as I can control the ratio of my protein ingredients as the store bought ones often have more fillers and less of the good stuff.

Chiquetaille is a preparation which uses a brine to enhance the flavors. The vinegar base also preserves and stabilizes the ingredients. Hot peppers and other additions like shallots, garlic and onions are also blended together to give texture and flavor. In Haïti, I learned how make several types of chiquetaille. These include salted cod chiquetaille de morue, smoked chicken chiquetaille de poulet fumé, ham chiquetaille de jambon. Each type is wonderful in its own right and there are slight variations in some supporting ingredients such as carrots and sweet peppers depending on the type of protein. You can also add ground cloves or thyme, but I am a bit of a purist in my preparation. I feel that the smoked herring is bold and needs no other flavors to uphold what it represents.

A lunch plate of chiquetaille de morue or salt cod with a little salad of avocado and radishes. Cassava bread completes the serving.

Smoked herring or hareng saur is very good prepared this way. I must admit that in general, I am not a huge fan of hareng sel, or salted herring. I much prefer salted codfish or a salted white fish, however, I really enjoy smoked herring in this creole form. It just makes my taste buds very happy. If you are someone who loves tangy, spicy foods; you will really be a fan of this appetizer.

If you can, buy smoked herring fillets instead of the whole smoked fish. Using a fillet portion will definitely save you a ton of work in the preparation of this dish. There will probably still be some very fine bones to remove, but like sardines, these will be the soft inoffensive ones which will not cause your palate or throat damage.

This for me is representative of a good Haitian creole dish. It is simple yet complex, spicy, slightly salty, acidic and 100% delicious. I like to serve chiquetaille d’hareng with slices of toasted baguette or fresh cocktail rolls. I sometimes serve a half block of cream cheese on a platter and spoon this smoked herring chiquetaille mélange liberally over the top. It is also absolutely divine on slices of steaming hot fried breadfruit or banane pèse (fried smashed green plantain). Chiquetaille d’hareng also goes perfectly with a good avocado. I find that the mellow buttery flavor of the avocado marries perfectly with the saltiness of the smoked fish.

If you make this dish, sterilize a bottle by boiling it for about 10 minutes and allowing it to cool. Fill the clean bottle with the chiquetaille and you can refrigerate it for months. Once you start to use it, ensure that you always use a clean utensil to avoid contamination. It will become a delicious go to quick snack or an appetizer when entertaining. Have a good quantity on hand when entertaining as many West Indians will find it “more-ish” and will be asking indiscreetly that you refill the bowl!

 

 Chiquetaille d’hareng

1 lb smoked herring, desalted and deboned

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp minced shallots

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley

3 hot peppers, finely chopped * more or less depending on your personal taste

1/3 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup canola oil

1 1/2 tbsp lime juice

1 tsp black pepper

Salt to taste

Some of the ingredients for the chiquetaille. Note this is only a portion of the smoked herring needed for the recipe.

Method

Boil smoked herring fillets for about 10 minutes. Change water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and place in a plate patting dry with paper towels.

With 2 forks, finely shred the smoked herring fillets. Try to remove as many of the thin bones as possible.

In a bowl, combine all of the finely chopped vegetables and chopped hot peppers along with the finely shredded smoked herring.

Mix the vinegar, lime juice and oil with black pepper and pour over the fish. Taste to check whether you need to add salt. This all depends on the saltiness of the herring.

For best results, let the chiquetaille marinate for at least 24 hours for the flavors to meld together well.

Keep in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Serve with mini rolls, crackers, cassava bread or toast. It is also delicious with cream cheese or avocados.

N.B: You can also use a food processor to pulse the herring fillets as well as the vegetables. If you do, process each one separately so that you can control the texture and size.  Do not over blend or it will become too fine or pasty.

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