Forget the Casserole — Pass the Chitlins
It’s the dish I crave every holiday season
I have a confession. I have never eaten a casserole.
Don’t give me that look. You know the one — that shocked, um what? look.
I don’t understand casseroles. Do you just layer food in a dish? With cream of whatever? And you bake it for how long?
So you can imagine my surprise when I found out from some colleagues that a casserole is a mainstay on their holiday tables.
Oh, and it’s not just on the table — it’s enjoyed.
As a black woman growing up in the South, my holiday meals began with the pillars of soul food: fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread.
Add in some green beans — no, not the casserole — black-eyed peas, chitlins, yams, stuffing, a few desserts, and we’re in business for a holiday dinner.
Of course, we had the obligatory Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham, but not once did I see a casserole on the table.
And, no, mac and cheese is not a casserole. You won’t convince me otherwise.
I’ve begun to hear murmurs — parseltongue to me — in our office of holiday casseroles.
“It’s the one thing I look forward to eating every year,” I heard amid the conversation.
It got me thinking: What is that one thing colleagues crave during the holidays?
For me, it’s my family’s chitterlings or chitlins.
They are chopped pork intestines, usually served over rice.
Because of the time it takes to clean and cook them, it isn’t a dish that shows up on the table often.
But they’re easily the food I look forward to most during the holidays.
As a child, I had to practically beg my mom to make them, and then I’d greedily hideaway a bowl of them before the extended family arrived.
Many people hate chitlins because of the way they make your house smell. So you want to know how it smells? Just consider this: You’re cooking a pig’s intestines.
My mom and aunts have secrets to reducing the smell; they clean them well and then add a whole potato and a whole onion into the pot while stewing.
I have fond holiday memories of them boiling on the stove and my mom sneaking me little bites as they cooked.
Chitlins have a complicated history.
Research suggests that their origin is English. Many cultures, particularly in Britain, continue to prepare them in various ways. Some boil them. Some fry them. And, of course, we stew them.
For many African Americans, chitlins date to slavery. Owners often fed their slaves little more than the scraps of animal meat that they deemed unacceptable for themselves.
Some African Americans have denounced the dish due to its traumatic past, but it reminds me that black people, my people, have persevered.
We’ve made a lot out of nothing. We’ve created love out of scraps.
That’s what I feel when I eat chitterlings during the holidays: love.
It takes love to clean and cook them for three or four hours, to boil them down and chop them up.
I feel the love from my family when I pour them onto my plate. I feel it deep down in my soul.
No casserole could ever give me that.
My mom, Valeshia, shares her recipe for my favorite holiday meal.
Three 5-pound bags of pre-cleaned chitterlings
3 whole yellow onions
1 large peeled russet potato
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
Pull chitterlings out of the bag and re-clean them.
Clean until all excess grit or residue is off. Dice one full onion.
After cleaning, bring them to a high boil and cook off excess fat. Do this process three times.
Add chopped onion. Add two whole peeled onions or one potato to eliminate the smell.
Cook on medium-high for 4 hours on the stovetop.
You can also cook them for 7 hours in the crockpot.
Add cream of mushroom soup after one hour of cooking.
After chitterlings are tender, take out of the pot and cut up to bite sizes or desired size.
Serve over white rice.