I was born in the northwest of the Dominican Republic, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I even heard of Chenchén (Cracked Corn Pilaf). What a shame!
I’ve mentioned this many, many times: For such a small country this one has so many regional variations in its cuisine that it’s entirely possible to reach adulthood without trying something that is a staple on the other side of the country.
I was born in the northwest of the Dominican Republic, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I even heard of this dish. What a shame!
This dish hails from the southwest, the opposite point of my family’s place of origin, and although northwestern cuisine has been influenced by neighboring Haiti (notably the use of thyme in our cuisine, which seems very rare outside the region), the Haitian influence in the southwest is even stronger. Chenchén is a dish that the Dominican Republic has in common with Haiti (with some differences in ingredients, I believe, and a different name, mais moulu).
Please do not confuse it with chacá, a corn-based dessert, also from the southwest.
If I had a penny for every time someone wrote to me requesting we added this recipe, I’d have… exactly 13 cents. Not a lot, mind you, but the point is: this recipe, although unknown to me for a long time seems to be very popular among our readers. And I can see why.
Please keep in mind that every family seems to have their preferred version of this dish. It is most commonly made with milk and/or coconut milk, though not everyone does. It varies in texture and consistency, from a dish similar to a creamy Italian polenta to the pilaf-like dish I show here. I would love to hear what version you prefer.
In the photo above I served it with Bacalao a la criolla (Codfish a la Dominicana), a staple of Lent cuisine in our country, but traditionally this dish goes better with braised goat, and/or cream of beans.
- 3 cups peeled, cracked corn
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
- 5 cups of vegetable broth, salted to taste (see notes)
- Rinse the corn in abundant water to get rid of stray peels and excess starch.
- Soak the corn in abundant water for two hours. Drain all the water before cooking.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil or butter over low heat.
- Add the cracked corn and cook and stir until it changes to a darker yellow color.
- Add broth and cook over medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Remove from the heat and cover. Let it settle for 5 minutes.
- Fluff with a fork and serve (it should be "al dente")
- Serve with chivo guisado and/or habichuelas guisadas.
Cracked corn is available under different names. For example, the type used for chacá is a bigger grain than the one used for this dish. You can find the finer one needed for this dish under the names "crushed corn" and "coarse cornmeal" or "coarse ground cornmeal".