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#946 - Jamaican Jerk
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Sooner or later, whether it's during a Caribbean vacation or a City Fair, you're going to come across a stand selling Jamaican Jerk food. Putting aside the obvious bad jokes, a dish like Jerk Chicken can be a real eye opener. We decided to look into this very old approach to seasoning and see what we could find out. And first of all, we realized that Jamaican Jerk recipes are not for the timid palates of the world.
First of all, Jerk refers not only to the seasoning, but to the whole grilling process. The Jerk seasoning is quite hot and spicy, with a distinct sweetness to it. It can be dry, as a rub, or wet, as into a Mexican mole. The objective is to produce a grilled dish that has tons of flavor, and a succulent texture. This is one of the classic, long slow cooking dishes of the New World.
The original techniques are ancient, and probably go back to Africa. A band of escaped Caribbean slaves known as The Maroons, were practicing the technique as early as the mid-1600's. The name comes from the Spanish word "charqui" which means dried meat. Think "jerky." Since preserving meats was a preoccupation of people before refrigeration, the peppery Jerk rubs and sauces were inevitable. As the centuries wore on, influences came from as far afield as China for the combinations of spices in the melange.
There are three key ingredients: Scotch Bonnet peppers (near the top of the Scovill scale!!!), allspice, and thyme. Other additional improvisations are welcome. For the dry rub, you can switch out Cayenne Pepper for the Scotch Bonnets. When working with the peppers, wear rubber gloves, and lose the seeds and the inner membranes of the peppers. Do not ever touch you face or eyes! Prepared Jerk seasonings are widely available for the convenience seeker.
Jerk sauces are the more common delivery option: it can be as easy as throwing a short list of ingredients into a blender, and creating a thick sauce, much like a Mexican mole. For the wet sauce, if Scotch Bonnets are too much, you can substitute the somewhat milder Jalapeno peppers, but don't lose the heat altogether, since that is the trademark of Jerk cooking.
One typical Jerk recipe calls for: allspice, brown sugar, garlic, SB peppers, thyme, scallions, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Process in a blender and slather on the meat. Remember that most grilling recipes want you to marinate your meat in the Jerk sauce overnight.
The most common meat to get the jerk treatment is pork. A typical pork shoulder recipe would call for long slow cooking, and serving the meat in big chunks. A chicken jerk recipe is usually a slightly lighter affair, with more vinegar and brighter flavors.