The benefits of travel to Jamaica are downright delicious, which is why Beaches Resorts sponsored this post so you can fully appreciate the culinary delights when you visit!
If you are heading to a resort in Jamaica, you better know about jerk cooking. Jerk cooking is not the name for when your brother-in-law cooks brats over a grill. Jerk cooking is Jamaican, and it is delicious.
Even though people usually connect jerk cooking to a specific recipe or spice, it is, in fact, a method of cooking. During the process, the meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a spicy marinade that often includes allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers. It is then cooked in a wide variety of methods, including a wood-burning oven or a charcoal grill. Even though all types of meat can be prepared with the jerk seasoning, it is usually associated with chicken or pork.
The etymology of the word may help us understand the history of the cooking style. The word jerk can refer to the poking action that people often do when cooking to cover the chicken or pork with holes. This action is undertaken so more of the flavoring can cover the surface area of the food.
Jerk is also said to come from a Spanish term that means jerked or dried meat. This etymology makes less sense since jerked chicken and pork is not dried like our jerky.
Regardless of the exact spices used and the origin of the word, it is known that this style of cooking is associated with Jamaica. Some historians say the method of cooking developed when African slaves escaped into uninhabited parts of the island. These former slaves used their natural resources to cook food for survival. Part of their natural resources included the Scotch bonnet pepper.
Jerk cooking has evolved into a huge industry in Jamaica. The current method uses old oil barrel halves. The oil barrels are cut lengthwise and reattached with hinges. The chefs fill the barrel with charcoal and lay the marinated meat across a grate. The barrel is then shut, so the chicken soaks up the smoky taste.
Other Jamaican jerk cooks use a steel drum jerk pan to grill the food over hardwood charcoal.
Every chef has his own jerk seasoning, but most of the time it includes allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers. The seasoning may also include cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, cloves, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. Scotch bonnet peppers, also called Caribbean red peppers, are a type of chili pepper that is much hotter than the average jalapeno. While the jalapeno ranges between 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale, the Scotch bonnets range between 80,000 and 400,000.
When you visit the island, you will find many jerk stands or jerk centers. Most of the time, the meat is served with a side of rice, a vegetable, and plantains.
Although some may pause before ordering food from a street vendor in Jamaica, most travelers say they have had no problems eating from such places. If a fantastic smell of spicy chicken tempts you, you may want to pause and look the area over before ordering.
Even though you probably aren’t going to be carrying around a meat thermometer as you walk through a Jamaican market, you may see the food being prepared. Look for vendors who cook the food to order instead of making the food and then storing it. A lot can happen during the food storage process.
When you get your food, look for the largest chunk of meat and cut through it to see if it is done all the way through.
Obviously, you should also look at the cleanliness of the cooking station. It’s a red flag when food sits uncovered.
It’s also a good idea to purchase food from popular vendors, especially if the food purveyor has a good business going with local customers. The locals will know where to buy food that won’t make them sick.
Also, talk with the workers at the resort. They should be very familiar with the local market and will direct you to the vendors offering the safest, tastiest, and most authentic jerk chicken that you will ever enjoy.
The only problem with eating jerk chicken while on vacation is that you will continue to crave it long after you arrive back home. If you don’t have any Caribbean restaurants in your community, you might want to try making your own.
Do you want to make your own version of jerk chicken at home? Try this recipe. Make sure you have white vinegar, dark rum, Scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros), a red onion, green onion, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, molasses, lime juice, and chicken. Here is the recipe with cooking instructions.