Jerk, not a bad word at all!

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When it comes to Jerk, Jamaicans can be proud and hold their heads up high. For such a small island nation, their Jamaican Jerk style of seasoning and cooking has taken root in all corners of the globe, not to mention their rightful place on supermarket shelves!

Everything you eat, no matter where you find yourself on Earth, starts off with fresh ingredients and a willingness to combine them. Jerk is renowned for its delectable spiciness and aromatic flavour, add a touch of smokiness to that from the Fornetto and you have yourself a winning combination.

Whether you prefer to marinate or to use a rub, Jerk has you covered as both work perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, a marinade and a rub will give you very different results both in flavour and colour. Having lived almost nine years of my youth in Jamaica, I can safely say that for me Jerk is a marinade however, as a recipe developer I’ve come up with a Jerk rub using many of the same ingredients that captures the essence of what I know to be Jerk.

Notice the difference in colour and texture of the marinade and dry-rub. The dry-rub shows a greater deal of red from the dried pepper powder whereas the signature blackness of the marinade on the right comes from the moistened black pepper and allspice, as well as the soya sauce I use where others may use molasses. What’s great about Jerk is that there is no “actual” recipe and that most families prepare it differently however, that’s not to say that one isn’t better than another! There are of course, base ingredients that Jerk can’t be without, otherwise it’s just not Jerk. I’ll list them off shortly along with other variants often used.

Be sure to apply a dry-rub only a short time (no more than a half an hour) before cooking as the salt can leach the natural juices out of the meat if applied to far in advance. When applied properly, a rub creates a great crust! A tip when using any dry-rub is that they are best suited to thin cuts of meats or fish that can be cooked quickly, similar to when using a Cajun blackening. A thin cut of meat or fish that’s prepared with a dry-rub will provide flavour in every bite, unlike a thick cut of meat or fish that will only have the flavour on the outside.

When it comes to marinating, marinate for long periods to impart a flavour deep inside the meat you’re cooking and depending on the cut, to tenderise it. I marinate Jerk chicken for a minimum of 12 hours and believe me the results are 100% worth the wait! Although optional, I prefer to remove the skin and score the meat before marinating it with Jerk as this will allow the flavours to be fully infused. Jerk is traditionally cooked over coal and gains a delicious smoky flavour as the drippings flare off the coals and flavour the meat on the way back up. This rings true for both a marinade and dry-rub. It’s always best to cook your meat or fish in the centre of the oven to ensure that they cook evenly.

The base ingredients for Jamaican “Rice and Peas” where the peas are in fact red kidney beans.

The mix of rice, beans, thyme and coconut milk are not only delicious and reminiscent of the beautiful island but really helps to tame the spicy heat that Jerk delivers.

Cooked Jerk should be quite dark in colour, not from being burnt but rather from a combination of the cooking and the dark marinade itself. That’s the sign of good Jerk. Serve it up sprinkled with freshly chopped scallions and a drizzling of lime.

The rubbed Jerk chicken seen here is always somewhat lighter in colour than the marinated Jerk however, it lacks anything but flavour. I like to serve it with extra finely chopped chilies to really spice it up and to make up for the heat lost by using dry chili rather than fresh in the rub. That’s optional though, of course!

In this blog I’m giving you a list of the ingredients that must be used and that are virtually always present in the very best Jerk recipes. I will also give you other ingredients that are sometimes used and in either case the quantities will not be listed, that part’s up to you. Experiment to get an “inspired” recipe that follows the time tested method of the Jamaicans.

YOUR SHOPPING LIST OF INGREDIENTS

If you are making a marinade, all of the ingredients in the mandatory list below are required. If you are making a dry-rub, be sure to use only dry powdered ingredients from the mandatory list below, no oil, soya sauce or fresh ingredients. 

Mandatory ingredients:

  • Scotch Bonnet / Habanero peppers (these are synonyms for the ripply peppers seen in the first picture on the blog) (Hot pepper powder for a dry-rub)
  • Allspice / pimento / Jamaican pepper or Myrtle pepper (all synonyms)
  • Scallions / green onions (or onion powder for a dry-rub)
  • Garlic (or garlic powder for a dry-rub)
  • Ginger (or ginger powder for a dry-rub)
  • Fresh thyme (or dry thyme for a dry-rub)
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Black pepper
  • Oil
  • Soya sauce

Optional ingredients (follow the same rule as above for a dry-rub):

  • Cloves
  • White or malt Vinegar
  • Orange juice
  • Sugar
  • Tamarind
  • Rum
  • Paprika
  • Lime
  • And anything else that may inspire you

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