True to its motto, “Out of Many, One People,” Jamaica’s cooking is an amalgam of many countries’ cuisines.
Jerk Chicken is probably the most recognizable Jamaican dish. “Jerk” actually comes from an Indian word, charqui, which loosely translates as “dried meat” or “jerky.” It involves rubbing chicken with a very aromatic mixture of super hot Scotch bonnet chile peppers, green onions, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, thyme and nutmeg. Typically these ingredients are mashed together into a paste or sauce, and the meat is marinated before grilling over pimento wood, which we call allspice.
An incredible sultry aroma of spices and burning allspice floats throughout the island. Jamaicans turn steel drums, tire rims and any other vessel capable of holding charcoal into a jerk pit. The jerk master typically slaps the jerk of choice—chicken, pork, goat and sometimes even fish—on thick brown paper or a paper plate along with an almost flammable secret jerk sauce and a slab of homemade white bread to soak up the juices. After the second or third bite, a pleasant sweat will break out, and you’ll know you’ve arrived in Jamaica.
By Steve Petusevsky, a chef, consultant and food writer in Miami, Fla.