To avoid the “check yourself emails” let me make my Trinbagonian people happy and say “bhagi rice” instead for spinach. Now on to a recipe which I try to make on those cold winter days when I crave the bright Caribbean sun and long for the days when I can be back down in my little piece of heaven The Caribbean. This is as good as it gets when it comes to comfort food for me. Though I’d much prefer to use dasheen bush bhagi, it’s easier to grow (short summers here) and easy to access (in grocery stores) Jamaican callaloo (chorai bhagi) so that will be the ‘spinach’ I’ll be using today.
2 cups chopped Jamaican callaloo
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 scotch bonnet pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon celery leaves
1 tablespoon chopped shado beni (optional)
2 seasoning peppers (pimento peppers)
2 cups brown rice (parboiled long grain)
tablespoon olive oil (veg oil or butter)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
2 cups water (or stock)
1 lb salted pig’s tail
* No salt as pigtail should have enough salt remaining, but do taste near the end and adjust to your liking.
Start by cutting the salted pigtail into 1 inch pieces. Use a heavy Chinese cleaver or ask your butcher to cut them for you. Rinse off, then place in a deep pot with water (cover) and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a rolling boil and let it cook for about 45- 55 minutes. The goal is to get the pieces tender and to remove most of the salt it was cured in.Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
As the oil heats in a deep saucepan (med heat), chop the onion, celery, scallion, garlic, seasoning peppers and shado beni (chadon beni or culantro. you can substitute cilantro).
Add all the chopped ingredients to the heated oil and reduce the heat to low. Let that gently cook for about 3 minutes. It’s all about flavor! In the meantime, wash, trim and cut the Jamaican callaloo into 1/4 inch ribbons. Basically take the leaves, roll into a large cigar and cut across the length of them.
Add the pieces of pre-cooked salted pig tails and give it a good stir. Let that cook for about 3 minutes. Then start adding the chopped callaloo (chorai bhagi) and stir well.
Wash the rice to remove any grit (place in a bowl with water and massage with your hands, drain and repeat until the water runs clear or place in a strainer under running water and massages until the water runs clear) then add it to the pot. Now add all the other ingredients into the pot and bring to a boil.
You’ll notice that I placed the scotch bonnet pepper whole in the pot. This will allow me to get a lot of flavor without the raw heat. If you’re into the hot-stuff, near the end you can burst that pepper open and deal with the heat. Remember to remove it from the pot when your done and DO NOT break it when stirring the pot.When the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat so you have a gentle bubble going and cover the pot. The idea is to let this slowly cook, until all the liquid is gone and you have plump grains of rice flavored with the coconut milk, salted pigtails and herbs.
It will take between 20 and 25 minutes after putting the rice in for the dish to be fully cooked, but it depends a lot on the brand of rice you use. If you find the liquid is burning off too fast, place on a smaller burner and simmer. If after the rice is fully cooked you find that it’s a bit runny, turn up the heat to burn off and excess liquid. But do keep stirring as the high heat will cause the natural sugars in the coconut milk to burn and the rice will stick to the bottom of the pot.
Turn off the heat and keep the lid on the pot for about 5 minutes before serving.. According to my mom, this will cause the rice to ‘yield’ nicely.