On its Caribbean-island home of Guadeloupe, they call it ‘bo-keet’. Fillings vary enormously, but what’s constant with bokit is the gorgeous, deep-fried bun. Ours are packed with juicy, hotly spiced, slow-roasted pork, and served with a traditional, lime-sharpened Creole dressing fired by bird’s eye chilies.
To call this a sandwich misses the mark. By a lot. The difference is really all down to the bun. Simple to make with simple ingredients, the bun is the signature that sets a bokit far apart from other foods in the filled-bread family.
And the bun’s distinctive signature is how you cook it. Unlike, say, hot dog rolls or burger buns that are oven baked, with bokit, you fry the bun hot and fast in plenty of oil. It’s a process similar to cooking a good doughnut, and it only takes a few sizzling minutes to go from dough to delight. And the texture? I’d put that somewhere between a French baguette and a classic flatbread like Indian naan.
A fabulous filling – Colombo-spiced pork
There’s also a strong Indian influence in our bokit filling. Guadeloupe is noted for a spice mix called ‘Colombo powder’. It apparently gets its name from the biggest city in what was once tagged Ceylon – Sri Lanka.
And the Indian connection with Guadeloupe? That certainly comes from the days when colonial France began using indentured, mainly Tamil, labour from south India to work primarily on their sugar plantations in the French West Indies.
In a sadly dark passage of imperial history, between 1853 and 1883, over 44 000 ‘contract workers’ were shipped from India to Guadeloupe and its sister-island, Martinique. This demand for labour had particularly bittersweet roots – France had abolished slavery in 1848, and its emancipated, mainly African, slaves preferred not to continue toiling for their former owners.
Fortunately, times change, and a positive, culinary influence has flourished since those unhappy beginnings. Just like the traditional ‘curry powders’ of Sri Lanka and southern India, Guadeloupe’s Colombo powder is headlined by ground cilantro and black pepper. Cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom are the typical backing vocals, adding to this curry powder’s deep, warmly rounded savors.
The spices for Colombo are often roasted before being ground and there are many variants that include fennel and mustard seeds, fenugreek, cloves, and allspice. For our slow roasted pork’s cook-in marinade/sauce, we’re keeping things simple and starting with a few ready-ground essentials.
One of the first additions to those sauce essentials are the oh-so-Caribbean chilies. In her book, Creole Kitchen, Sunshine Flavours From the Caribbean, Vanessa Bolosier says that habaneros are the primary piman – Creole for chilies – in Guadeloupe’s cuisine, but piman-zozyo, bird’s eye chilies, also feature. And that’s what we’re using to give our saucy marinade its fiery kick.
So, we now have a hot, Colombo-spiced base ready to be blitzed into a paste with onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, Demerara sugar, and lime juice. Once the pork is thoroughly coated in that glorious mix, it’s heading for a few hours’ tightly-sealed roasting in a moderate oven. Result? Pull it apart with your fingers, cut it with a soup spoon, sigh with pure pleasure at its wondrous depths of flavor.
That fabulous filling gets a big helping of inspiration from another, possibly more famous Guadeloupean dish, Colombo de porc. We use the same cut of pork, Boston butt, a.k.a. pork shoulder, but slow-roast it whole, rather than cutting it up and cooking it casserole-style with carrots and potatoes.
The Creole dressing
The dressing for our bokits gets its name from a brand of kitchen knives that are regarded as indispensable in Guadeloupe. Made in France and still going strong today, ‘Couteaux Chien’, dog knives, owe their moniker to the blade-embossed logo. That’s a cartoonish canine that reminds me a bit of Tin-Tin’s Snowy. First manufactured by Sabatier in 1910, this is the knife that christened a regionally famous Creole dressing – chien sauce.
Hot, salty, sharp, and garlicky, this versatile dressing also features a little onion, a couple of bay leaves, and plenty of fresh parsley and chives. Everything’s very finely chopped (to be super authentic, you know what knife to use) then stirred together with freshly squeezed lime juice and finished with a little olive oil.
Spread generously on the nicely absorbent insides of your bokit’s halved bun, the bright immediacy of this sauce is a wonderful counterpoint to the richly fatted spiced pork.
A little lettuce, tomato, and cucumber? Yes, please.
I like this finishing touch for the variety of very different flavors and textures it adds to a bokit.
I cut ripe tomatoes into slices about ¼ inch thick, with each bokit getting four slices. Same story for the cucumber, except that I cut those slices much thinner – about an 1/8 inch thick.
As for the lettuce, I used a few fresh, crisp leaves from a very convenient pack of mixed salad leaves. Lovely. Just lovely.
How many bokits per person?
Our recipe makes six bokits. Now, these are pretty substantial, and I reckon one-and-a-half is ample for a hungry, good eater. Or maybe just one.
I’d make six bokits for four people – and let folks politely decide for themselves how best to share them.
Bokit With Colombo-Spiced Pork
For the bokit buns
- 4 cups white bread flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried yeast
- 1 ½ teaspoons caster sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons lard melted. If you prefer, you could swap the lard for the same amount of butter.
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 2/3 cup warm water
- 2/3 cup full cream milk
- 3 ½ cups sunflower oil for frying the buns
For the Colombo-spiced pork
- 2 fresh red Thai bird’s eye chilies roughly chopped, seeds and all. The ones I used were each about 2 ½ inches long.
- 2 pounds boneless Boston butt or pork shoulder – in one, whole piece. Look for a nicely fatted piece – and perhaps mention to your butcher that you’re looking for a fat content of about 25%.
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled and halved
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root roughly chopped, skin and all
- 2 ½ heaped teaspoons ground cilantro
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 heaped teaspoons Demerara sugar
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice approximately the juice of two limes
- 2 tablespoons water
For the Creole chien sauce
- 2 fresh red Thai bird’s eye chilies Mine were each about 2 ½ inches long – very finely chopped, seeds and all.
- 1 yellow onion small-sized, peeled and very finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and very finely chopped
- 4 bay leaves each chopped into 3 pieces
- 1 ounce fresh parsley very finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1 ounce fresh chives very finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice approximately the juice of two limes
- 1 1/2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons boiling water
Making the bokit buns
- A word first about timing – and measurements. You want the buns to be ready for their few minutes’ frying once your Colombo-spiced pork is cooked. That way both the pork and the buns will be nicely hot for serving.
- Bearing that in mind, I’d start with the buns, so that while the pork is slow roasting, the dough can rest and rise a couple of times before you form the buns and fry them. The dough needs to rise and rest twice – each time for 90 minutes – 3 hours in total. And, happily, three hours is how long it takes to cook the pork.
- As with all types of bread and pastry making, it pays to take some care to be accurate with your measurements.
- Sift the flour into a mixing bowl that’s easily big enough to hold all the buns’ ingredients. Stir the salt into the sifted flour.
- Add the milk, water, and melted lard (or butter, if you prefer) to a heatproof mixing jug and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds or so until warm – about 108F / 42 C. That’s the sort of water temperature that’s grand for a good washing of your hands.
- Stir the caster sugar and dried yeast into the warmed milk, water, and lard (or butter) – and keep stirring until the yeast and sugar have completely dissolved. Time now to mix the liquid into the flour – and for that I start by stirring with a stout wooden spoon, followed by some final mixing with my fingers.
- Combining the flour and the liquid is a gradual process. I start by adding a third of the liquid and stirring thoroughly until it’s all absorbed by the flour. Then I repeat that process for the next third of the liquid, and then repeat again for the final third.
- What you’re aiming for is a ball of dough where all the liquid is absorbed by the flour and the ball easily comes away from the sides of your bowl.
- Now for some kneading – for 10 mins – on a work surface lightly dusted with a little flour. If you’re not familiar with how to knead dough by hand, there’s a good instructional video here from America’s Test Kitchen.
- After that 10 minutes’ kneading, set the dough back in its mixing bowl, and cover it with a damp cotton kitchen towel. Set it aside for 90 minutes to let it rise and expand – it’ll probably about double in size during that time.
- During this first ‘rise’, you’ll have ample time to sort out your Colombo-spiced pork and the Creole chien sauce.
- After those 90 minutes’ rising, knead the dough again for another 2 minutes. Once that’s done, form the dough into six equal balls and return them to your mixing bowl. (FYI: each of the balls I made weighed almost 5 ounces.)
- Cover the bowl again and set it aside for another 90 minutes. And when those 90 minutes are up, the pork will be done, and you’ll be ready to fry the buns and serve your bokits.
Cooking the Colombo-spiced pork
- Set your oven to 375F / 190C.
- While it’s heating, you can make the cook-in marinade / sauce for the pork.
- So, add to your food processor the chilies, onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, thyme, sugar, salt, lime juice, and water. Blitz until you have a smooth paste – that took me about 2 minutes.
- Now set your pork in a baking dish – I used a 14-inch, cast iron, gratin dish for this – and pour over all the marinating sauce mix. Use your fingers to make sure the pork gets a thorough coating of the mix. Don’t worry if not all the mix stays on the pork – just get as much as you can all over it.
- Cover the baking dish with a tightly sealing layer of silver foil. You want a good seal so that the pork will roast and steam as it cooks in your spicy mix under its covering of foil. Good. Set the baking dish on a middle shelf in your oven and let it roast for its first 1 ½ hours.
- Once it’s had that 1 ½ hours’ roasting, remove the dish from the oven, take off the foil and turn the pork. Give it a thorough basting with the sauce, replace the sealing cover of foil and return the pork to the oven. Now let it roast for another 1 ½ hours. When that time’s up, the pork is done.
Making the Creole chien sauce
- Add the bay leaves, garlic, onion, thyme, and salt to a warmed mixing jug that’s big enough to hold all the ingredients for your chien sauce.
- Stir in the four tablespoons of boiling water. Take a little care to make sure it is boiling water – you want it to soften the garlic and onion slightly, and to pull the flavor from the thyme and the pieces of bay leaves. Stir well to dissolve the salt, then set the jug aside and let it cool for about 5 minutes.
- Now add the chilies, parsley, chives, lime juice, and olive oil. Stir very thoroughly. Now’s a good time to check for saltiness and adjust to suit your taste. Remove the pieces of bay leaves and discard them. That’s it. Your Creole sauce is ready.
Frying your bokit buns – hot and fast
- For this, I used a heavy, deep-sided, 12-inch skillet that was big enough to hold all the sunflower oil – at about 2 inches deep – and to fry two buns at a time.
- Use you hands to form each of the six balls of dough into discs about 1/3 of an inch thick and about 4 inches across. I did this on a work surface lightly dusted with a little flour. You want to have a fairly light touch here so that you don’t compress the dough balls any more than is absolutely necessary to shape them. A light touch is way more important than getting perfectly round and evenly flat discs.
- Add the oil to your skillet and set it on a high heat. As soon as the surface of the oil starts shimmering – but not yet smoking – drop the heat to medium-high and gently add your first two discs of dough.
- Let them sizzle away for 2 minutes, then turn them over and let them fry on that medium-high heat for another 2 minutes. You’re aiming to give the buns a good golden color all over, and for them to puff up a little as they fry quickly in that hot oil. Remove the buns with a slotted spoon and set them to drain on some kitchen towel.
- You now need to repeat this fast and hot frying process in the same way for the remaining discs. That means heating the oil on a high heat so that it comes back to shimmering point. Then drop the heat to medium high and fry the next pair of discs just as you did with the first pair.
- When all the buns are fried, you’re almost ready to serve.
Assembling your bokits
- After it’s had 3 hours in the oven, remove the pork and set it onto a chopping board to cool for 5 minutes. The thickish, saucy mixture that’s left in the baking dish is going to get mixed with the pork in a few minutes, so keep it to hand.
- Once the pork has cooled a little, you can pull it apart so that it’s ready to fill those fried buns. I used a pair of steel salad forks to do this – and was careful not to shred the pork too finely. Once that’s done, gently mix all the sauce from the baking dish into the pulled pork. Time to assemble your bokits.
- Use a serrated bread knife to slice each fried bun almost all the way through its waist. Slice through just enough so that you can open the buns, and so they stay joined along one side. (Just like slicing open a hot dog roll.)
- Now spread about a half a tablespoon of your chien sauce onto the cut sides of each bun. Set some lettuce on one side of each bun and then spoon a generous amount of the saucy pulled pork onto the lettuce. Top the pork with a few slices of tomato and cucumber.
- Final step: close the bun. Bingo! Your bokits are ready to serve – with napkins and any of the remaining chien sauce.