Saturday, May 18

SOME LIKE IT HOT: Jamaica's Succulent Jerk Barbecue

                                                                               Mr.P and I first experienced 'Jamaican Jerk' at Blue Heaven  while vacationing in Key West, Florida. I thought I knew what the culinary word 'jerk' meant before we set out for Jamaica. I was ready to indulge once again on that wonderful spicy barbecue. Oh Boy! Was I ever wrong! Mr.P and I were in for a real shocker, we learned the true meaning of jerk at Scotchies, an unassuming barbecue restaurant in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We learned fast to keep the jerk in one hand and a bottle of water in the other! It wasn't just spicy it was down right hot, but truly a wonderful food experience that we will NEVER forget. 

You know you're getting near Scotchies by the irresistible smell of sweet smoke in the air. You'll find friendly cooks tending marinated meat over the fire pits. They specializes in 'jerk', in fact that's about all they serve, along with the local beer. Jamaican Jerk is considered to be a succulent, spicy style of barbecue. I'm from TEXAS folks and it's like no barbecue I have ever eaten before. But self-proclaimed jerk lovers line up for this special Jamaican food wonder, dousing hunks of hot, fragrant meat in blistering hot, piquant sauce, and devouring it quickly.
The key to jerks tremendous appeal lies in the unique way it's prepared. The meat is cooked atop wood set over charcoal on long trough-like grills. The white smoke from local branches is captured beneath sheets of galvanized steel that are laid on top of the grill, so that the jerk steams as it smokes, resulting in moist, tender meat. Allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and thyme lend fragrance to the complex paste in which the meat marinates before it's cooked; scallions and citrus give it sharpness and tang; and plenty of black pepper and Scotch bonnet chile add heat. Now a days, the jerk meat of choice is chicken, though the technique is also applied to sausage, seafood, goat, beef, lamb, the original jerk meat, pork and of course fish. Dating back to the time of slavery in Jamaica, this cooking technique was developed as a method for runaway slaves to cook food without being caught. Traditionally, they would dig a pit, light a fire of sweet wood, then lay the meat on top, covered by a piece of tin, then bury it. They hunted feral pigs, which were abundant in 18th century Jamaica. What ever spices they could forage were rubbed into the meat before cooking. This method allowed little smoke to escape, but made the meat falling-off-the-bone tender. Not only did this preserve the meat making it portable, but, as later visitors discovered, it also tasted wonderful. Some visitors to Jamaica find jerk to be more delicious than American barbecue, full of fiery chiles and fragrant spices.  If you visit Jamaica it should be on your 'not to be missed' list. Get ready for your upper lip to sweat!


Lining up at the order window.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
¾ cup packed light brown sugar                
¾ cup ground allspice
¾ cup minced scallions
½ cup peanut or canola oil
⅓ cup ground black pepper
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup minced ginger
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cloves
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles,

stemmed, seeded and minced
2  3-4-lb. chickens, each quartered


1. Combine sugar, allspice, scallions, oil, pepper, salt, ginger, juice, soy sauce, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, garlic, and chiles in a bowl. Add chicken; toss to coat in jerk marinade. Cover with plastic wrap; chill at least 6 hours, or overnight.

2. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill orheat a gas grill to medium. Add chicken, skin side down; cook, turning once, until marinade forms a crust on the outside, about 8 minutes. Cover grill; continue cooking until cooked through, about 40 minutes. (Alternatively, transfer chicken to a foil-lined baking sheet; bake in a 350° oven until done.)

For jerk, it’s hard to beat Scotchies. The open-air restaurant features an exposed “kitchen,” which is more like a staging area for smoking meat, and the authentically seasoned chicken, fish and pork is served with a side of Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce. We were allowed to go back to the grill area, where a cook named Shorty makes all the magic happen.
If you happen to be in the land of the Rastafarian, stop in at Scotchies and try the jerk. It's the best island food bar none! Those who cook this zesty fare take pride in using their own special blends of seasonings, often kept secret. But one thing is universal when it comes to jerk: Nothing meets the heat like a well-chilled local Red Stripe beer, or for those non-drinkers like me, a huge bottle of ice cold water! Sample jerk dishes at Scotchies, a rustic place just a few miles north of Montego Bay that's adored by locals and travelers alike. It is something to see and is one of Jamaica's most powerful sensory experiences. At least that's legal.....


Relaxing under a palm tree, listening to the sounds of the water 
and land, eating a jerk smoked chicken leg........IT COULD WORK!
How about you??


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