Jerk is both a style of cooking and the mix of spices used to make jerk. It is a very popular way of cooking in Jamaica that has grown from chicken to pork, fish, sausage, tofu, lobster, etc.
My earliest memories of jerk was of a man who used to sell jerk chicken door-to-door on his
bicycle. Back then, making jerk was an elaborate affair – it was always slow-cooked in the open over pimento wood, which gave it a distinct flavor. Jerk all but disappeared in the 1960s but it saw a huge resurgence in the 1970s when some enterprising chefs duplicated the sauce and made it available in bottles and packages.
Thanks to Jamaicans abroad who wish for a taste of home, jerk has gone international.
At home, especially in tourist areas, jerk is big business but, as you’d expect, it’s been watered down considerably to accommodate those who are averse to the peppery jerk taste. (Earlier this year, I wrote a post, Jamaica-In Search of the Real Jerk about finding authentic jerk in Jamaica.)
Peppery or not, jerk is still a delicious way to cook. You can bet it’ll be on the menu this weekend at many July 4th barbecues.
Here are two recipes to try.
Stir-Fried Caribbean Vegetables with Jerk Tofu
I discovered this recipe a few years ago. It is one of my favorites and disappears pretty quickly whenever I make it.
1 tbsp Walkerswood Jerk Marinade or Jerk Seasoning (you can substitute any jerk seasoning from the supermarket or the one below)
2 tbsp palm, peanut, sesame or soy oil
500 g/1lb. firm tofu, cubed
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Oil, for frying
For the vegetables:
About 1kg/2 lbs. total of any combination of carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, green cabbage, pak choy, sweet peppers and/or broccoli
Mix together jerk seasoning and oil, add to tofu and marinate for at least an hour (preferably overnight).
Heat the frying oil in a wok or suitable skillet. Deep fry the tofu cubes for 3-5 minutes and reserve. Pour out most of the oil and stir-fry the onion and garlic; then begin to add the other vegetables, hardest first. Cook very lightly; then add the tofu and stir in gently until hot. Serve immediately.
Serves 4. Preparation time: 15 minutes plus 1 hour (or up to overnight) marinating plus 10 minutes cooking.
Jerk Tofu recipe courtesy of Walkerswood Caribbean Kitchen by Virginia Burke.
David’s Jerk Chicken
½ cup Jerk Rub*
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
Leaves from 1 fresh thyme sprig, minced
2 scallions, including green parts, finely chopped
1 chicken (3 to 3 ½ pounds), cut into serving pieces
Mix together the jerk seasoning, onion, pepper, thyme and scallions. Rub the chicken well all over with the jerk rub. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
Prepare a low fire in a charcoal grill using a combination of charcoal and pimento wood. (If you don’t have pimento wood, substitute applewood or hickory, or build a fire with just charcoal. If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to 225° to 250°F.
Place the chicken on the grill and cook, covered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, turning every 10 minutes or so. When it’s done, the chicken will take on a very dark color, the juices will run clear when the meat is pierced, and the internal temperature will have reached 160°F.
*Jerk Chicken Rub
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped scallions, including green parts
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4-6 Scotch Bonnet or habanero peppers, minced fine
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, combine all the ingredients and grind to a paste. Store leftover paste in the refrigerator in a tightly closed jar for about 1 month.
Makes about 1 cup; enough for 406 pounds of meat
Jerk Chicken recipe courtesy of Jerk from Jamaica by Helen Willinsky
Enjoy your 4th!