Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jamaican Jerk - and it's History

"Jerking food" is an unique Jamaican way of preserving and cooking meat. Pork was originally the first meat to be "jerked" but now chicken and even fish is "jerked". The origins of the word "jerk" in its application here are obscure. Your bodies reaction as you eat jerked meat; to pull or jerk a portion of meat off the fire; the jerking action as the meat is turned on the fire. Maybe its origins are in the Arawak Indian language.

Jerked pork, fish,  or chicken is fabulous, by any definition or origin. It is truly one of the great culinary delights of the world.Its origins date back to the native Arawak Indians traditional method of using Jamaican pimento (also known as allspice) to season and smoke meat (primarily wild pigs). Imagine the variety of spices with hot chilies (originating in South America and the Caribbean) combined with those that the pirates were bringing in from both the old and new worlds. The escaped slaves were very skilled at at slow roasting meat in pits. Both dry seasoning rubbed into the meat, and fiery hot marinades are what make the meat of fish so incredibly delicious.

Pimento (allspice), hot chilies and salt are common to all mixtures, plus additional herbs and spices (sometimes up to 30 or more) usually including thyme, garlic, cinnamon, scallions, and nutmeg. Sometimes the dry seasoning mix is rubbed into the meat, sometimes the meat is left to soak overnight in a wet marinade of spicy but flavorful mixture of peppers, pimento seeds, scallion, thyme . The meat is basted with the seasonings as it is cooked over an outdoor pit slowly over a smokey wood fire lined with pimento wood. The Maroons did the cooking underground to camouflage the smoke. The low heat allows the meat to cook slowly, retaining the natural juices while becoming infused with the flavor of the wood and the different spices.

The escaped slaves, called Maroons, are believed to have developed and perfected this method of preserving and cooking meat during their years living in the Blue Mountains while they were fighting the British troops.Recipes have been handed down through generations. Some of these recipes and techniques have been kept as cherished secrets, as competition and pride runs high among jerk cooks in Jamaica.

The result is a delicious meat, chicken, or fish, that goes perfectly well with a beer.