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Techniques

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How to do the jerk as the Jamaicans do

Carole Kotkin

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  • International

    Be careful when handling the chiles. Wear plastic gloves if possible and don't touch your eyes or the inside of your mouth or nose. Wash your hands well after handling.

    2 tablespoons brown sugar

    1 tablespoon ground allspice

    1 tablespoon dry thyme leaves (not powdered)

    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1 teaspoon salt

    1/2 teaspoon cayenne

    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

    6 garlic cloves, peeled

    2 inches fresh ginger, washed and cut into chunks

    1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper or 3 or more jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped

    1 small bunch green onions, trimmed and coarsely chopped

    1/4 cup vegetable oil

    1/4 cup red wine vinegar

    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

    COMBINE all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to two weeks. Set aside about 1/2 cup marinade to use as a baste and place about 3 pounds of chicken parts in the remainder. Refrigerate for at least two hours and up to 24 hours, turning chicken occasionally. Drain chicken and grill, basting with unused marinade.

    Yield:

    Makes about 1 1/2 cups.



Many island dishes, from rice and beans to fried plantains, are shared across the Caribbean, but jerk belongs to Jamaica. It began as a way for the Maroons (runaway slaves and their descendents) to preserve wild pork and evolved into the island's most famous dish.

Some say the term refers to the way the pork (or chicken) is turned over and over – or jerked – as it cooks over a hardwood fire. Others say it comes from the fact that the fork-tender meat is jerked off the bones. Either way, jerk is both a cooking method and a seasoning, a fiery blend of Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, green onions and thyme.

Jerk blends are available in the supermarket's spice section, but a homemade marinade is far superior and simple to make.

Jerk should be grilled using the indirect method. Here are tips:


The Jamaican wood of choice, pimento (allspice), is not easy to find in the United States. Maple, pecan and cherry are good substitutes. The strong flavors of hickory or mesquite tend to fight the spicy marinade.


Soak a cup or two of wood chips in water for at least an hour, drain and scatter over the hot charcoal when ready to cook.


Use plain charcoal briquettes, not the self-starting kind. They burn longer and don't give off as many fumes.


Set aside about 1/2 cup of the marinade to use as a basting sauce.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school in Miami. E-mail: ckotkin@MiamiHerald.com.

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