Does this picture immediately make you think of Jamaica?
The scotch bonnets and Appleton Estate Rum are likely to get you headed in the right direction. But did you know that allspice berries are also quintessentially Jamaican? It’s true! Jamaica is one of the leading producers of allspice, but it’s called pimento or Jamaica Pepper there. The spice came to be called allspice because it displayed the flavour and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper–all combined in one spice. Nutmeg is another spice commonly grown in Jamaica and it is encased in a hard shell which is easily cracked to get to the nugget of spice within.
So why the sudden interest in Jamaica? You’ve probably guessed that I’ve just returned from a Jamaican get-away . . . and as usual, you are right. Boy, the world looks a whole lot different after you’ve had a restful vacation, doesn’t it? I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in so many ways. The best part was spending time as a family without cell phones, computers or television. We really connected and enjoyed our time together, but our favourite family experience was climbing Dunns River Falls. (Our tour guide Tammy made it her personal mission to get both of our girls to the top of the falls safely. They sure were in good hands with Tammy.)
The trip was a big success on all fronts. Beyond all the wonderful experiences, I was happy because I was able to load up on Jamaican spices and Rum Cream Liqueur . . . and the girls were happy because they came home with a souvenir that they love: braids!
One of the trip’s highlights was our daily lunches at the hotel’s jerk pit, which overlooked the ocean. Of course I had hot dogs all week. Just kidding! It was all jerk, all week long for me. I gradually worked my way up to the hell fire jerk sauce and boy was it spicy! They say that Jamaican jerk burns you twice: once on the way down and once on the way out. (Sorry!)
- After getting to know jerk so well in Jamaica, I had to recreate it for you when I got back home.
Jerk refers to both the cooking technique and the spice seasoning. I’ve opted for a wet marinade because it is known to produce jerked meat that is much moister and sweeter than dry rubs. Recipes for jerk marinades vary according to tastes and regional traditions. I’ve included all the key ingredients that are common in jerks–allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, scotch bonnets and soy sauce (yes, this is authentic and reflects the longstanding influence of the Chinese emigrants in Jamaica).
My oldest ponytail helped with all steps involved in making this jerk chicken and side dish (red beans and rice), as she was working on one of her Brownie badges. But don’t worry, I didn’t let her touch the scotch bonnets!
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dark rum
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper, seeds removed and minced (be sure to wear gloves!) *
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tsp ground pimento (allspice)
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3 to 4 lb whole chicken, backbone removed and quartered (see instructions for spatchcocking a chicken to learn how to remove the backbone)
* increase to 2 scotch bonnets if you like your jerk spicy
Mix all ingredients together in a food processor until well blended.
Pour the marinade over chicken pieces and rub in well. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, preferably overnight.
Preheat barbeque; grill chicken on low-medium heat for 45 minutes, turning once for the last 10 minutes, until juices run clear.
If using the oven, cook at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until juices run clear. (Note: if you are cooking in the oven, you could add a bit of liquid smoke to your marinade to give the jerk chicken that authentic smoking flavour that comes from the barbeque.)
Source: I used this recipe from Epicurious as a starting point in developing this recipe.
NOTE: I marinated the chicken overnight and reserved some of the marinade to serve with the chicken when cooked (as you’ll note in the photo). However, while the flavour of the marinade was lovely, I didn’t like the consistency of the marinade the next day. I recommend that you eat the marinade the same day if you want to serve it with your cooked chicken.
Jamaican-style Peas and Rice (Red beans and Rice)
- 2, 19-oz tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- 2 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
Combine rice, water and salt in a medium sized microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 10-13 minutes in microwave until water is absorbed (I start with 10 minutes and then cook in one minute intervals until all the water is absorbed). On the stove top, combine kidney beans and coconut milk in medium sauce pan; simmer on low for 10 minutes. Add cooked rice and cook on low for 5 minutes until well incorporated. (Alternatively you could substitute 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of coconut milk when cooking the rice, rather than adding the coconut milk to the cooked rice. I prefer the former method because I find the rice has a creamier texture this way. You could also add sauteed onions and other spices, but my daugther preferred to omit the onions.)