Pork dishes during the year-ending holidays are a tradition throughout Trinidad because they symbolise prosperity and are really delicious. I couple juicy chunked pork with creamy boiled and fried yam for my New Year's Day lunch.
Most families have a meal either Old Year's or New Year's with a slightly superstitious quality. Leafy greens like cabbage, which resemble paper money, or various peas—especially black-eyed—resembling coins, are consumed because they are thought to bring financial success. Long noodles are eaten to bring a long life.
I make a meal of pork and yams because my life revolves around the garden and the earth. Pigs root the ground in a forward movement, which can be interpreted as progress; and the yam grows long and healthy in the cool soil.
We have an area where yams love to grow. In the past few years we have planted the bent yam or yellow (yamatata), the white and mauve "cush-cush" varieties. Unfortunately, their long vines eventually cover some cassava and banana trees, but a few sacrifices must be made for these tasty roots. Mid-December we are graced when a few vines start to wilt, beginning the hunt for the yam head. Chopping away the vine usually exposes a good-sized yam.
Almost all yams are broken when dug and too big to be consumed in one meal, so wipe the cut or broken ends with a fresh lime to halt any deterioration. Yam stored properly can last for months, depending on your appetite. Yam flesh is bitter and can be poisonous raw, but cooking makes it safe and tasty. One cup of cooked yam contains 150 calories with five grammes of fibre, Vitamins C and B6, potassium and manganese.
Potassium helps lower blood pressure, which can spike during the holidays. Yams' sugars and complex carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood stream slowly and because yams are high in fibre, they fill you up without filling out your hips and waistline. Manganese in yams helps to slow the carbohydrate metabolism and is important in energy production.
World pork consumption ranks third behind beef and chicken. Trinis love pork and relegate this delicious meat—the other white meat—to weekends, as vendors selling fresh are busy every Saturday and on Sunday mornings. We savour hams, loins, pork (spare) ribs, and steaks fried, stewed or roasted. Pork has about 20 per cent protein content, important for muscle building. It is also high in Vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, zinc and selenium. Pork contains plenty of iron, very easy for the body to absorb. A cup of cooked, chunked pork is about 350 calories split between protein and fat content.
The bad news to purchasing pork is that a typical cut is almost three quarters water. Most of this water is in the fat. There are three different types of fat in pork: muscular, between the muscle and under the skin or rind. Lean pork should not be overcooked as it will become dry and chewy. Cooking pork slowly at a low heat of 175°F makes the meat extra succulent. This permits most of the fat to melt away, yet the intramuscular fat remains. Although to most of us the fat is the flavour, to be healthy let your pork dish sit for 15 minutes and spoon off a good portion of the grease before serving.
Did you know?
The Chinese domesticated pigs 6,000 years ago. They originated from Eurasian wild boars. Now there are around two billion domestic pigs in the world.
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto brought the first pigs to North America in 1539. Cows weren't imported until 1611 with the Pilgrims. Wild hogs still reside in many forests and jungles of the West Indies descendants of the original pigs the explorers left with goats as food sources on all of the islands. There are 15 species of pigs.
During the War of 1812, a New Yorker who packed salted pork named Uncle Sam Wilson shipped a boatload of several hundred barrels of pork to the US troops. Each barrel was stamped "US" for "Uncle Sam". That shipment of pork was almost large enough to feed the entire army and "Uncle Sam" became a nickname for the US government.
Boiled and fried yam
• 3 lbs yam, peeled and cut into one-and-a-half-inch-thick slices
• 3 pimento seasoning peppers
• 4 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 medium onion, chopped small
• 1 TS salt
• 1 TBS corn oil
In a medium pot, place yam and cover with water, add salt and pimento peppers whole. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Uncover and spoon out pimentos. Test the yam by cutting it with a spoon. Drain and set aside when it cuts easily.
In the same pot, add the oil, heat; and add onions, garlic and the pimentos (smash with a spoon before adding).
Cook, stirring for about a minute, then add yam slices. Stir so the flavours of the onions, garlic and peppers combine with the yam. Serve warm.
• 2 lbs pork, washed, cut into 1-inch chunks
• 1/2 TS browning sauce
• 1 cup coconut milk
• 1 TBS corn oil
• pinch of salt
Green seasoning is a blend of 6 leaves chadon bene, 4 cloves garlic, 1 sprig thyme, 1 celery stalk, 2 whole chives, 3 pimento peppers and a few leaves of basil.
Marinate pork chunks in green seasoning, browning sauce and salt for about an hour.
In a medium pot, heat oil, add pork and stir well. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 15 minutes. Uncover and stir so pork doesn't stick.
Add coconut milk. Stir, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 more minutes.
Uncover and again test the tenderness of the pork by cutting with a spoon. If it is ready, it will slice easily. If there is excess liquid, let simmer for another 5 minutes.
Place on dish and let sit for 5 minutes. Use your taste and judgment if you want to spoon off any excess grease.