Sunday, October 10, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Jamaica

After a very delicious stop in Bangladesh, I proceeded to the next destination on my culinary adventures ... Jamaica.  I've always been interested in Jamaican food, especially Jerk Chicken.  I was riveted to the television as Anthony Bourdain was standing on a Jamaican street with his guide, watching as street vendors cooked the chicken.  I would tell myself that I have to make this chicken.

"Jerk" is a method of cooking chicken that originates with the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Jamaica, the Arawaks.  Originally, the cooking method involved smoking the chicken over pimento wood, or the wood from the allspice tree.  Over time, the method evolved to its present form in which the chicken is grilled in pit barrels or steel drums. But for those who not have a steel drum in their backyard (or, for that matter, who do not have a backyard), really good jerk chicken can be made using a stove.

As is often the case with cooking, there are many different recipes for a rub or dish, with each recipe being slightly different from the next.  The reason is that there is no one jerk rub recipe.  Everybody has their own recipe with their own twists or modifications.  To make this rub, I relied upon a couple of recipes, which had common ingredients like allspice, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, oil and thyme.  Other recipes may also add cloves, citrus juice (orange or lime), and nutmeg.  But, to be a true Jerk recipe, the rub must include allspice.  This recipe is simply my basic version of a Jamaican Jerk rub.  Next time, I will probably add more, like 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, maybe some lime juice and even a teaspoon or two of dark rum.  Who knows, it is always fun to tinker with recipes.


Makes about 1 cup of jerk rub
Serves about 7-10 people

1 bunch of scallions, minced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons of minced ginger
2 Scotch Bonnet peppers (or Habanero peppers), sliced, seeded
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of allspice
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of black pepper
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 cup of soy sauce (I used dark soy sauce, and cut the amount in half)
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
7 pounds of chicken

1.  Prepare the jerk sauce.  Add all of the ingredients except the liquids (soy sauce and oil) to a food processor.  Run the processor a few times to mix the ingredients.  Begin running the processor and add the soy sauce in a slow stream.  Then  add the oil in a slow stream.

2.  Marinate the chicken.  Pour the rub in a non-reactive bowl.  Add the chicken and make sure the chicken is covered.  Let it marinate for at least a couple of hours or overnight.

3.  Preheat the grill.  With the chicken having marinated for a few hours or overnight (see rub recipe above), begin to start a fire for the grill.  You want to get the grill to about 350 to 400 degrees F.  Rub the grates with oil, so the chicken will not stick to the grates.

4.  Grill the chicken.  Add the grill to the chicken, skin side down. Cook until the chicken is about 165 to 170 degrees and the juices are clear and not pink. Transfer the chicken to a platter and loosely tent with foil and let rest for about 15 minutes.  Alternatively, you can cook it in the oven at about 350 to 375 for about 50 minutes. 


Of course, a spicy dish like Jerk Chicken needs a cool drink to go with it.  I found a recipe for a non-alcoholic ginger beer (no fermentation required) which was easy to make.  I fiddled with the amounts but the recipe is adapted from one found at

Serves many

1 pound of ginger, peeled and cut into small pieces
3 cups of water
3/4 cup of sugar
Juice from 2 to 3 lemons and/or limes
At least 5 cups of club soda


1. Add the ginger, sugar and 3 cups of water to a blender and blend well.  Let the blended mixture rest for a couple of hours or overnight.

2.  Strain the blended mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

3.  Add the club soda to the mixture until there are 2 quarts or 8 cups of the beverage.

*     *     *

Once again, I think this cooking adventure was a big success.  I really liked the jerk rub, which was full of flavors and spice from the peppers was really good.  Jerk chicken is definitely a good meal to share with friends, whether for a dinner or a party.  As with everything that I have made, I will make this meal again. Until next time....


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