You could say I’m fond of jerk, but you’d be making one hell of an understatement. The Jerk Cookout Festival has been my event of the year for the past three and I’ve struggled the rest of the time to make a solid version at home. Smokey Jerkey in New Cross (one of the best) and various places in Brixton and Peckham fill other gaps.
Caribbean ingredients are piled high on every reasonable bit of pavement here and you could buy the ingredients for a jerk marinade in almost every food store on Peckham Rye; which one you choose depends on personal preference. I’ve been here about a year and half now and I’ve fallen completely in love with the ramshackle collation that is Khan’s Bargain Limited and the lively stalls on Choumert Road.
I never stop being amused by the interest from Jamaican people who seldom fail to spot the ingredient combination in my hands and stop me mid-browse to ask what I’m cooking. For some reason ‘soup’ is always their first guess. You say you’re making jerk and eyes flicker with excitement. They love the fact you’re loving jerk but at the same time you can forget the idea of ever getting a hint at their recipe. Great jerk recipes are guarded like treasure. They are highly personal. You know the exciting ones are always the product of many tweaks over many years, passed between relatives and best friends who keep it locked against their chests like a family jewel.
It was one of those situations where you kick yourself for not realising what the obvious and crucial omission has always been. What I had before was always hanging on the side of being a raw flavour base; kind of like eating a curry paste on its own with no sauce. The use of dark sugar melts the lot down to a fruity, perfumed glaze that chars at the edges into delicious smoky nuggets.
I used three de-seeded scotch bonnets and the heat was pretty spot on; the warm and tingling hum allows for a dollop of hot pepper sauce if it tickles your fancy. I served it with a white cabbage slaw with nigella seeds, not because it was the best match but because I had a lot leftover from the day before. It is one of my favourite accompaniments to grilled tandoori chicken.
The jerk was my most successful attempt to date; thank you Josh for the inspiration. Nothing more satisfying than moving along a long term recipe commitment. There is always one major problem with cooking jerk at home though and that is the fact that most of us will never own a proper steel drum ‘jerk pan’, although believe me when I say that once I have my own garden, I will build one. Until that day, a BBQ is the best bet.
[EDIT DECEMBER 2011: I now have a new and even further improved jerk recipe, which I shall reveal soon. Hopefully in a very exciting way!]
1.5 tablespoons allspice
50g dark packed brown sugar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 bunch large spring onions (about 5)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded
Juice of 2 large limes
1 tsp salt
Chicken pieces (I used 2 legs and 2 breasts)
Blend all the marinade ingredients together and smother over the chicken rubbing well in. I use gloves for this, as I do when I chop the scotch bonnets. Refrigerate overnight.
Allow to come to room temperature and brush off most of the excess marinade before grilling on the BBQ. To set up your BBQ for the indirect method, light the coals in the middle in a kind of volcano shape then wait for the flames to disappear, leaving you with coals which have a light grey ash coating. Move them to the sides. This gets the indirect heat circulating around the kettle when you put the lid on. I find it helps to also brush the grill with a little oil. The chicken pieces will probably take about 30 minutes (although it depends on size) – always check the juices run clear.
To cook in the oven, place in a baking tray and cook at 190C for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear.
White Cabbage Slaw with Nigella Seeds
This is a perfect match for Tandoori chicken, not so much jerk.
1 medium sized white cabbage, shredded
1 yellow pepper, grated
60ml red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon nigella (onion) seeds
Mix it all together and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Serve.