Though it is a small Caribbean island, Jamaica has had major impacts on world culture. Jamaican music, athletes, and cuisine all are known well beyond their country’s borders.
But it is their cuisine that intrigues me most. Specifically, Jamaican jerk and its history.
The island of Jamaica was originally inhabited by Arawak Indians from South America over 2,500 years ago. The Arawak brought a cooking technique of drying strips of meat from Peru known as charqui, but the meat was seasoned with herbs and peppers that were indigenous to the island, which formed the base for new flavors.
The Arawak lived undisturbed for nearly 2,000 years before they were conquered by the Spanish in the late 1400s, and during this time many of the island’s native people were killed by disease. In the early 17th century British merchants brought African slaves to the island to harvest sugar, coffee, cocoa and more.
A small group of these slaves escaped and lived freely in the mountains of Jamaica. They brought with them hunting and cooking techniques from Africa, but they blended this with the seasonings and marinades the Arawak Indians had developed from local ingredients.
These escaped slaves, known as Maroons, fought, and won, two wars for independence, and their combination of local ingredients and their own unique cooking style is what formed the basis for the modern Jamaican jerk recipes we know and love today.
In this podcast, Josh Cary and Chef Tom Jackson tackle Jamaican Jerk Chicken:
- 3 habanero chiles, stemmed, minced
- 1/2 cup green onions, minced
- 1/4 cup garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup ground allspice
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 3 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp smoked salt
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 (4-5 lb) chicken, quartered
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice
- Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a food processor and pulse until broken down, but still contains small chunks of texture. Set aside 2 tbsp of the marinade/sauce.
- Combine the jerk marinade/sauce and chicken in a bowl. Toss to coat. Marinate 4-8 hours.
- Build a hot charcoal fire in your grill, set up with both direct and indirect grilling zones.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade. Grill over direct heat until lightly charred on all sides. Move to indirect heat, brush with the reserved sauce/marinade and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 160ºF in the breasts and 170ºF in the legs/thighs.
- Combine the reserved 2 tbsp marinade with the pineapple juice and mix well. Immediately after pulling the chicken off the grill, brush with the pineapple jerk glaze.