Tips & Tools

Haitian Cuisine

Haitian cooking is all about flavor and each region has its own unique cooking style but of course several elements unite these diverse styles, their marinades to create the flavors and aromas distinctive to Haitian cuisine.

Following are some sample marinades, for more detailed marinades visit our Spices & Marinades page.

Marinades for meat
1/2 c. vinegar
1/4 c. lime or lemon juice
2 garlic, crushed
1 clove
3 sprig of parsley
2 scallions
1 twig of fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. of coarse sea salt
black pepper
small bay leaf crushed
1 chicken or beef bouillon cube (optional)

Crush finely all ingredients in a mortar or pestle

Marinades for poultry
1/2c butter
2 garlic crushed
2Tbs. onion, chopped fine
2 twigs of thyme
2 sprigs of parsley
1/4 c. lime or lemon
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
black pepper
1 Tbs. worchestershire sauce (optional)
Chicken bouillon cube (optional)

Crush finely all ingredients in a mortar or pestle

Marinades for Fish and Seafood
1C. lime or lemon juice
1/2c. oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. worchestershire sauce (optional)
1 bay leaf crushed
pinch of pepper
2 sprigs of parsley
1 sprig of thyme
Crush finely all ingredients in a mortar or pestle

Allow to stand half an hour or more in marinades.

Cooking Equipment

You should find that your kitchen is well equipped with everything you need to produce the dishes in this blog.  The equipment ranges from a blender is a great time saving tools and will be invaluable for making purees, shakes or marinades, wooden spoons, slotted spoon, mixing bowls, sharp knives, chopping board, a sieve (strainer), a balloon whisk.  A heavy based frying pan (skillet)is a must, sturdy pots.  Herbs and spices is always freshly ground using a mortar and pestle or if you have one a coffee grinder makes the job so much easier.

1. food processor
2. mortar and pestle
3. mixing bowl
4. good quality heavy base pots and sauce pan
5. coffee grinder
6. slotted spoon
7.wooden spoon
8. sieve (trainer)
9. sharp kinives in three sizes
10. Grater

Cooking Tips

Good food depends on the quality of the ingredients that one uses.  Haitian cuisine unlike many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America is not hot and does not use a lot of spices nor curry.  All the herbs and some of vegetables and fruits can now be found in supermarkets or can be purchased from Caribbean or Latino stores. 

Take advantage of fresh produce available to produce these delicious dishes and don't be afraid to substitute fresh vegetables if specified ingredient can't be found.   The herbs and spices used in a dish are integral to its flavor.  The quantity of spices and herbs mentioned in this blog are merely a guide, so feel free to experiment.   Experiment with quantities, adding less than specified, if wished.

There is no substitute for fresh spice and herbs but when time is of an issue do not hesitate to use powdered garlic instead of fresh one or powdered cloves or pepper.  Spices are used both whole and ground in Haitian cooking. For a more pungent aroma and intense flavor use whole spices and grind them at home.

Helpful hints

  • Raw cane syrup can be substituted for corn syrup in recipes and has good nutritional value. It can be purchased in the market. Send your own bottle. Before using, strain and boil for 10 minutes, the return to clean bottle.
  • When cooking white rice, a little lime juice added will whiten and fluff it.
  • To make confectioner’s icing sugar, put 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp. cornstarch together in a blender. Blend about 1 minute until powdered.
  • Homemade brown sugar can be made by adding 2 tablespoons molasses to 1 cup white sugar. More molasses may be added if you want darker sugar.
  • Haitian meat tenderizing method: Crush a papaya leaf in your hand and with a little water, rub thoroughly all over meat. Immediately wash meat of every trace of leaf and juice. If left on, it will turn your meat to a mushy consistency.
  • Green mangoes, mirliton, green papaya, and grenadine are all good substitutes in recipes calling for apples. By experimenting you can see which you prefer. If the fruit seems to lack tartness and flavor add a little salt and lime juice to the recipe.
  • Zucchini squash can be substituted for cucumbers in making bread and butter pickles.
  • Flours vary widely in moisture content. A good practice with any kneaded bread is to reserve the last cup to add as necessary, a little at a time, during kneading.
  • When you find mold on your cheese, just trim off the mold and use remaining cheese - it’s perfectly safe.
  • Grate hard, dry cheese finely and sprinkle over spaghetti or other dishes.
  • If you have leftover egg yolks, cover unbroken yolks with water to prevent drying out in the refrigerator.
  • Use extra egg yolks to enrich scrambled eggs, fried rice, breads, cakes, cookies, etc.
  • Crumb crust, replacing graham crackers - Crumb together 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup margarine. Spread on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees, turning often until golden. Crush fine before lining baking dish. Can also be stored for later use.
  • Whole wheat can be hard to find. Some people are finding that cracked wheat can be bought in the market, cooked slightly and when cooled, slowly added to their white bread dough during the kneading time.
  • To blanch almonds, put them into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, strain them and run cold water over them. Then dry them in a cloth. The skins will slip off easily.
  • A well beaten egg white added to mashed potatoes will add to the looks and taste of the dish
  • Lemon juice or vinegar in the water cauliflower is cooked in makes it keep its snowy white color.
  • A fork should never be stuck into a steak or chop that is being fried or grilled, because it lets the juice out.
  • Grate a raw potato and add it to your soup when you put too much salt in it. The potato absorbs the salt.
  • Use the divider from an ice tray to cut biscuits in a hurry. Shape dough to conform with size of divider and cut. After baking biscuits will separate at dividing lines.
  • To strain cooking oil after deep-fat frying, place a paper coffee filter in the funnel used to put the oil back into its bottle. Then just throw the filter and crumbs away.
  • Leftover rice? Don’t toss out. Save and reheat next day. Place it into a large strainer, set over simmering water, cover and steam until fluffy and hot.
  • Freeze leftover cornbread for use in stuffings.
  • Dice untoasted stale bread to use in meat loaves. A blender quickly turns bread pieces into crumbs.
  • Whirl small amounts of leftover dishes in the blender and incorporate resulting sauce into another soup or main dish. For example, leftover macaroni and cheese goes into a cheese sauce
  • Save all bones and meat scraps for making soups.

How To Handle Chilies

Hot peppers, or chilies, require special handling. Their volatile oils may burn your skin and make your eyes smart. Wear rubber gloves if you can, and be careful not to touch your face or eyes while working with chilies.

To prepare chilies, rinse them clean and pull out the stems under cold running water. Break or cut the pods in half, and brush out the seeds with your fingers. In most cases the ribs inside the pods are thin and may be left intact, but if they seem fleshy, cut them out with a small, sharp knife. The chilies may be used at once or soaked in cold, salted water for an hour or so to make them less hot.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling hot chilies.

Choosing Ingredients

Glossary of special ingredients
Aniseed:  This has a delicate liquorice flavour and sweet seed. It is a good aid to digestion.

Bird Eye pepper:

Cashrew nuts: These full-flavoured nuts are popular ingredient in many of the dishes from the northern part of Haiti.

Cinnamon:  One of the earliest known spices, cinnamon has an aromatic and sweet flavor.  It is sold ready-ground and as sticks.  Used in pourridges, liquors, teas thoughout Haiti.

Cloves: This spice is used to flavour all the savory dishes and it is added whole.

Coconut: Used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes, fresh coconut is now frequently available from supermarkets.  Desiccated (shredded) coconut and creamed coconut make acceptable substitutes for most dishes.  Coconut water is used a juice to alliviate thirst, the coconut milk is used in dishes.

Garlic:  This is a standard ingredient in most Haitian savory dishes.  It can be used pulped, crushed or chopped. 

Ginger: This spice is used for tea and sweets.

Leeks: Sometimes used in marinade but mostly use in soups specially in the traditional squash soop.

Mango:  See the fruit section

Mint: Haitian mint is very strong and it is use as a digestive in teas and also for Kibbi.  Rarely used in savory food.

Mustard:  Use in sandwiches and as a seasoning for marinades

Nutmeg:  Although widely use in Haiti but mostly for sweets, liquor, bechamel sauce for savory and usualy grated or ready ground to add a sweet flavour.

Parsley:  Used in all savory dishes, marinades, beignet.  This beautiful fragrant herb is both used in cooking and sprinkled over dishes as an attractive garnish.

Scallion: This herb is the base along with garlic for all marinades.

Scott Bonnet Pepper: Hot pepper that is used whole in all savory dishes uncrushed just to add flavor.

Star Anise:  Star anise isa star-shaped liqorice-flavoured pod.

Thym: this herb is use to flavor all savory dishes and often in the style of 'bouquet garni"