Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken
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Jerk - Jamaica's Fast Food

Probably the biggest fast-food industry in Jamaica, you literally cannot go anywhere in Jamaica, at any time of the day or night, without encountering a jerk stand! Jamaicans and visitors alike seemingly never get tired of jerk – whether it’s chicken, pork, fish, goat, beef, sausage or even vegetables, lobster or shrimp. Until you try real Jamaican jerk, you haven’t tasted Jamaica. But be prepared – this spicy-hot jerk can pack some serious heat!

These street-side fire pits usually consist of old oil barrels cut in half lengthwise, hinged, drilled with ventilation holes and layered with charcoal and the sweet, aromatic wood and green leaves of the pimento tree (the wood of the allspice tree), to produce the genuine jerk flavor.

Jerk
is native to Jamaica and is the process of spicing and grilling meats that have been dry-rubbed with a very spicy mixture consisting primarily of Scotch Bonnet peppers (some of the hottest peppers around, in the habanero family) and pimento, and then marinated into the meat for 4 to 12 hours. Each chef concocts his/her own special jerk spice rub, adding other ingredients like scallions, ginger, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, or garlic. Some chefs add soy sauce or vinegar to make a marinade and believe this makes the meat jucier than the crusty dry rub. No matter your preference, great debate goes on over whose secret recipe is the best and family recipes are zealously protected!

The word “jerk” itself is appears to be derived from charqui, a Spanish term for dried meat, which eventually grew into jerky and then jerk in English. Some believe that jerk pork originated from the Maroons, Jamaican slaves with West African roots who escaped from the British in 1655. Others say the process is most similar to that used by Jamaica’s first people, the Taino indians, who arranged “grills” of sticks over shallow fire pits composed of pimento wood, put the meats on this grill and essentially smoked it, covered in pimento leaves. This smoking process preserved the meat for later use when there was no such thing as refrigeration. Still others say the term is related to the constant turning or “jerking” of the meat to load it with the spice blend and cook it thoroughly.

Boston Bay, in the east coast parish of Portland where allspice trees grow wild, is celebrated for its concentration of stalls selling jerk along with festival, rice and peas, and coconut water. People travel from all over the island to sample what many believe is the very best jerk. Boston originated the annual Jerk Festival, now known as the Portland Jerk Festival, which is held at the Folly Great House on the outskirts of Port Antonio each July. It has become a fun-filled 3-day event with entertainment by local performers and wonderful jerk from some of Jamaica’s finest native cooks. Just follow the aroma and the smoke!

Follow the link to our favorite recipe for Jerk Chicken if you want to give this delicious dish a try.

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One Comment

  1. Eating Jamaican jerk style food could be healthier than other grilled or barbecued meat. It is believed that meat grilled over high heat could increase the risk of cancer. If this is so then we need to be careful on how we prepare our foods. The popular belief from the experts is that marinating meat well for at least thirty minutes prior to cooking will decrease this deadly risk.

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