Food on Fire – The Joy of JERK

A Fiery Food Fetish – Jamaican StyleJerk Chicken

I enjoy a really good Jerk chicken and have the perfect recipe for those who are daring enough to try it.

FIRST, a bit of history (you can always skip this part & cut right to the chase but I think it’s a good idea to let people know where the dish originated from).

It all started with survival (and if you really want to take it a step further I guess you can say that that’s how all food started).  The beginning doesn’t sound too appetizing.  Escaped slaves living in the Jamaican jungle interior had to develop many survival techniques – but none more impressive than the way they hunted wild pigs (cleaning them between run-ins with the law) and covering them with a mysterious spice paste and then cooking them over an aromatic wood fire.  Now this spice mixture is so popular, inspiring commercial spice mixes, bottled marinades and the use of the word “jerk” around the world. What about the word used to describe this dish?  Most Jamaicans offer the non-scholarly explanation that the word refers to the jerking motion either in turning the meat over the coals or in chopping off some for customers.

However…JERK….is the English form of a Spanish word of Indian origin.  The original Indian word meant to prepare pork in the manner of the Quichua Indians.  Now Jerk is prepared with chicken, fish, shrimp even lobster.  Several of the best jerk purveyors are still on the beach at Boston Bay, Portland (not in Oregon) somewhat off the tourist track mostly frequented by Jamaicans, not tourists.  But I was lucky enough to try some from a local stand (actually no more than a thatch-roof hut built over low-lying , smoldering fire) – and it’s never tasted better.

The jerk sellers tend to be characters with colorful nicknames and singsong sales pitches that tell you why their jerk is the best on the island.  They’ll even pull out a glass jar of jerk paste with lethal scotch bonnet peppers and scoop out some for you to try.  This definitely will require a *red stripe to cool down the flames.  *Red Stripe is the beer of Jamaica.  Oh my, I almost forgot I have a recipe.

Jerrific Jerk Chicken

This recipe is great served with rice and peas.  It can be made more authentic by doubling all the dry spices – including the fiery chili flakes!  You could also substitute a whole chicken cut into serving size pieces instead of chicken breasts with terrific results. At this time of year you can grill the chicken under the broiler instead of on the barbecue.

1 Tbsp. ground allspice

1Tbsp. dried thyme

1 ½ tsp. dried chili flakes

1 ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp. ground sage

¾ tsp. ground nutmeg

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp. salt

2 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. brown, cane or coconut sugar

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

¾ cup vinegar (either regular white or apple cider)

½ cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is best)

Juice of one lime

1 fresh *scotch bonnet pepper, seeded & chopped

1 cup chopped onion

3 green onions, finely chopped

6 single chicken breasts, skin and bones removed.


In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  Slowly whisk in oil, soy sauce, vinegar, orange and lime juices.  Stir in scotch bonnet pepper and onions.  Add chicken, cover and marinate at least 4 hours.

Preheat barbecue to medium (or oven to 350 degrees).  Remove chicken from marinade; grill 6 minutes each side or until cooked through with no pink remaining.  Baste with marinade while grilling or cooking.  Bring remaining marinade to boil; spoon over chicken.  Makes 4-6 servings.

*Scotch bonnet is a very hot chili pepper available at West and East Indian food shops and at some supermarkets.  If unavailable, substitute a fresh jalapeno or extra dried chili flakes to taste.

Recipe courtesy of Sugar Reef Caribbean Cooking (McGraw-Hill)

History & Photos courtesy of The Food of Jamaicaauthentic recipes from the Jewel of the Caribbean.

The girl who would be King spent several years (off & on but mostly on) traveling all over this beautiful island sampling resorts, jerk, rum, coffee and…..whatever else.

Another recommendation - Blue Mountain Coffee
Another recommendation – Blue Mountain Coffee preferably on the top of Strawberry Hill.


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