How to Make Jerk Cuisine
If you’ve ever visited Jamaica, you’ll instantly recognize that jerk flavor: tongue-tickling spice that warms the stomach and makes you slow down and appreciate every bite. It’s as much a part of the experience as the beaches, tropical trees, and surplus of sunshine.
The History of Jerk Cooking
What we know as jerk today was made by combining the cooking style of Coromantee African slaves (otherwise known as the Maroons) with the indigenous Tainos and Arawak people of the Caribbean.
The word jerk comes from the Spanish word charqui, which roughly translates to “salted meat” (makes sense that “jerky” sounds very similar). Originally used to preserve boar the Maroons hunted on the island, you can now find jerk chicken, goat, beef, fish, lobster, vegetables, tofu, and even fruit. If you can marinade it, it will work with jerk.
For the most authentic flavor, you’ll have to travel to Boston, Jamaica, where it’s cooked on the beach over pimento wood sticks and jerk pits.
What Are the Main Ingredients of Jerk?
Allspice – The dried fruit of the pimento dioica, named because when European settlers first tasted it, they felt it combined the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. If it doesn’t feature allspice, it ain’t jerk. Also, the wood of the allspice plant is often used for kindling to grill jerk food, and its smoke offers a unique flavor.
Scotch bonnet peppers – Jerk cuisine is often quite spicy, which comes from the Scotch Bonnet pepper. This pepper has a Scoville rating between 80,000-400,000 (compared to a jalapeno which is 8000 at most). While it can be difficult to find Scotch bonnets outside of Caribbean markets, habanero peppers make for a suitable replacement, as they have a similar Scoville rating.
Jerk Pork Recipe
Recipe featured in “The World of Street Food” by Troth Wells.
Preparation: 24 Hours (12 Hours if using chicken)
Cooking: 1-2 Hours
3 pounds / 1.5 kg of pork loin
1 scotch bonnet pepper or habanero pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon Chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cloves, heads only
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1-2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Juice of 1-2 limes
- Put all ingredients (except the pork) into a blender and blend. Add water or lime juice to create smoother texture if necessary.
- Rub the pork with the blended mixture, place on a non-metal cooking dish, wrap in aluminum foil, and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- If possible, slow roast over a barbecue (charcoal works best, use pimento wood chips for a very traditional flavor). If not, put in oven at 325°F and cook for 1-2 hours.
- Serve with rice, hard dough bread, flatbread, or Jamaican dumplings known as Johnnycakes.