Jamaican Jerk recipe

Ingredient list:

  • 3 scallions, rough chop
  • 4 large garlic cloves, rough chop
  • 1 small onion, rough chop
  • 4 to 5 fresh Scotch Bonnet or habanero chile, stemmed and seeded
  • 1/4 C fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C dark rum
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 3 T oil, neutral flavor is best
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T minced fresh ginger (1 t if ginger powder)
  • 1 T packed brown sugar
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 t ground allspice
  • 2 t black pepper
  • 3/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 t cinnamon

Place all the ingredients into a blender and mix until you get a relatively smooth paste.  Don’t over kill it.  Stop and scrape a couple of times to make sure everything is blended equally.  Add just a little bit of water if it seems too thick or it is not blending properly.  For an extra level of flavor lightly toast the spices (allspice, black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon) in a small saute pan over low heat before adding them.  The heat helps to release the essential oils to fully bring out the spices flavor.  If you are new to Scotch Bonnet/Habanero peppers you might want to air on the side of caution and use only 1 or 2.  The first time I made it I used a couple jalapenos and a couple serrano peppers.  The scallions along with a white onion give a nice well rounded onion flavor.

Put your chicken and marinade in a plastic bag and then place it in a leakproof container.  Keep it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and even up to 24 hours.  The longer the meat is exposed to the marinade, the more flavor you get. You can even mash the meat and marinade around every few hours to ensure complete coverage.

You can grill or smoke the chicken, my preference is usually smoked but that little charring you get from grilling is phenomenal.  In Jamaica the smoke flavor comes from meat seasoned with pimento spice (allspice) placed on top of a bed of pimento leaves, and pimento wood sticks. Then the meat is slowly barbecued over the fire. Pimento wood is the wood of the Jamaican allspice tree, found only in Jamaica.

Now if you are lucky enough to have been to Jamaica, and have been fortunate enough to enjoy jerk chicken (or shrimp or fish or…) then you’ll appreciate the genuine smoky flavor of pimento wood along with the tangy spice of pimento leaves and berries.

Jerk Chicken is believed to have been conceived when the Maroons introduced African meat cooking techniques to Jamaica which were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Arawak. The method of smoking meat for a long period of time served two practical purposes: keeping insects away from the raw meat and preserving it for longer once it has been cooked. This process also introduces a strong smoky flavor to the meat.

There are two commonly held theories regarding how the name “Jerk” came to be used.  One is that it originated from the Spanish word “Charqui” which described dried meat.  Over time this term evolved from “Charqui” to “Jerky” to “Jerk”.  There is another theory that the name is derived from the practice of jerking (poking) holes in the meat to fill with spices prior to cooking.  Nowadays, the word “Jerk” is used as a noun to describe the seasoning applied to jerked food and as a verb to describe the process of cooking used.

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