I learnt a couple of things writing this post. The first is that it is very hard to photograph jerked chicken! Alongside curry and mole, dark saucy dishes are not very photogenic. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t smell or taste fantastic!
Another thing that I learnt is that there are lots of variations of what “jerk” actually is. I always though it was the name of a film….or another word for idiot…. but Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or marinated with a very hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. It is cooked on either a barbecue or stew and is traditionally applied to pork or chicken but I don’t see why it couldn’t be used on seafood either. My recipe below is made as a braise but traditionally the meat is marinated and then grilled on a barbecue which produces a blackened dish.
And a dirty barbecue!
Why “jerk”? The word is said to come from the word charqui, a Spanish term for dried meat, which we know as jerky in English. Jerk spice refers to the spice rub for jerky and has since been applied to other methods of cooking.
Folklore has it that the sauce originated from the slavery days in Jamaica where Coromantee slaves found themselves using the local spices available to them. It has been adapted and modified over hundreds of years as various cultures added their influence.
Wikipedia says that jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (pimento) and Scotch bonnet chillies (habanero). Other ingredients include thyme, cloves, cinnamon, onion, nutmeg, garlic, and salt.
I have never been to the Caribbean or South America where this dish is famous but I have endeavoured to try as many jerk dishes that I can find whilst dining out. And I’m confused! It seems that most of the dishes I tried were honeyed and ranged from sickly sweet to fiery hot. There were only few which had the signature allspice and thyme flavours evident so my recipe here is more or less a guess of what a true jerk should be like. And not in the form of Steve Martin!22 allspice berries 1 teas salt 1 teas black peppercorns 1 cinnamon stick, broken 4 dried bay leaves 1/2 fresh nutmeg Place dry spices into the TM bowl and mill on SP 9 for 10 seconds. This makes enough for 2 batches so remove 1 tablespoon for another batch. To the remaining mix add: 1 bunch thyme, woody stalks cut off but stems OK 50g spring onions handful parsley 1 knob ginger 4 cloves garlic 1 habanero chilli or – 2 fresh green chillies, depending on taste And grind on SP 9 for 10 seconds. Then add: 70g olive oil 40g wine vinegar 40g dark rum 1 tab honey (or more to taste) 30g tamari or soy sauce Mix on SP 8 for 20 seconds until smooth. I used this sauce on a butterflied chicken which I placed in a casserole dish with some sliced lemon. I poured over the sauce and braised for about 40 minutes in a moderately hot oven until the chicken was cooked, basting a couple of times. Alternatively you could marinate some chicken legs in the sauce overnight then roast or barbecue. I think that a good meaty fish like swordfish could work well this way too. Chillies vary greatly on heat, so be cautious at first. You can always add more spice afterwards if you prefer.