I first came across the concept of Jerk anything about 25 years ago when I was visiting London and spent a day at the Notting Hill Carnival. For those who know nothing about Notting Hill outside of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, the carnival is a celebration of Black British Culture, primarily those of West Indian ancestry. It is (sometimes literally) a riot of colour, music, food and dance. In amongst the sound systems, calypso bands and strutting masqueraders, there are hundreds of pop-up food stalls, including the smoking grills that give forth their jerked bounty. The first grill I approached only had kid left, that’s kid goat.
Goat is something I have never tried, and I don’t think I ever will. Sometimes my own squeamishness or even hypocrisy about food alarms me, I have no qualms about eating fluffy little lambs, but kid goat… thanks, but no thanks. I did find some chicken and it was delicious, a taste revelation for an Irish bloke who grew up with bacon and cabbage for a national cuisine.
Although Ireland is now far more multicultural than it was 25 years ago there is still no significant Caribbean or West Indian community here, so we are unlikely to see grills full of smoking goat in Dublin any time soon.
The traditional accompaniment for Jerked meat is Rice and Peas and perhaps fried Plantain. Rice and Peas is a meal in itself really so I am not going near that recipe here, but I’ll revisit it at some point. This recipe is fake food, perhaps not as fake as Jamie’s jerk rice that recently caused a bit of a twitter furore, but it is merely inspired by the flavours of the Caribbean, I would not dare serve it to a Jamaican! It is a sanitised, Europeanised, almost ready-meal, notion of what Caribbean food might be, but I love the flavours and regularly make it for myself.
I have to admit here that I was looking for a bottle of jerk seasoning sauce that I like to marinade the chicken in but couldn’t find it, I could only find a dry blend which was grotesquely overpriced, so I had a look at the ingredients and realised that I had all these herbs and spices at home. Why not make my own for a change? By all means do buy a ready made Jerk sauce or dry blend, they are absolutely fine, but having made my own mix I don’t think I will be going back to the shop bought stuff. Mine was much more flavourful than anything I had before. That’s the thing about cooking for yourself, you can tweak almost any recipe to make it more satisfying to your own taste. For instance, I am not a fan of coriander, I have been fed it by friends and it was fine, but I would never use it myself. Some recipes for jerk seasoning do include coriander, but I left it out. Likewise, if you bother to make your own jerk seasoning you can leave out almost any of the ingredients listed below. Allspice, thyme and chilli for heat are the common flavours of jerk, everything else seems to be freely interchangeable.
This fed me for dinner and lunch the next day.
Fake Jamaican Jerk chicken
Jerk Seasoning my way
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp chilli flakes or powder
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
The rest of the fakery
- 1 chicken breast cut into chunky cubes
- 150 g mushrooms sliced
- 1 red pepper sliced and diced
- I small onion
- I clove garlic
Cultural appropriation aside, let’s cook. I like to mix the jerk seasoning into a little oil to make a liquidy marinade, I then spike the chicken pieces with a fork and mix them in to the jerk and leave them to marinate for as long as possible, overnight is great, thirty minutes will do.
In a saucepan (more fakery, the traditional way to jerk anything is over a barbecue grill) fry the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of oil until softened, up the heat and fry off the marinated chicken pieces to give them a little colour. Add the mushrooms and pepper and stir these in to coat them in the jerk seasoning. Simmer for about ten minutes, the mushrooms will release their moisture so you shouldn’t really need any more liquid. The veg are just to bulk this up a little and act as a carrier for the seasoning. You can use whatever you like.
And that’s it!
I serve this on bed of plain white rice and I enjoy it immensely. Rice and peas can wait for another day and I try not to think about the disapproving clucks of my London/Caribbean friends.