Outside of the culinary world, “jerk” is a term that is often used in a derogatory context. “Jerking”, on the other hand, became a dance fad for a solid year. However, on the island of Jamaica, “jerking” is a unique method of wood-fire barbecue.
This cooking technique has transformed throughout the years, beginning with cooking meat (traditionally pork or chicken) over a simple, slow flame in a pit, to cooking over fire inside the half of a steel drum. Jerk-style cooking is not only unique in method, but unique in flavor as well.
The preferred meat uses a dry-rub containing the two most vital ingredients for a Jamaican jerk spice: allspice (pimento) and Scotch Bonnet peppers. Scotch Bonnet peppers are among some of the hottest peppers in the world, with a heat rating of 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville units. To put that in perspective, Tabasco sauce has a rating of 3,500 – 8,000 Scoville units. This pepper means business.
At The Breadfruit in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, I was able to try this intimidating (but delicious) jerk chicken dish for myself. Their “Jerk Chicken off the Grill” is a chicken breast marinated in their very own house spicy jerk rub, grilled over pimento wood, and topped with a mango chutney. I’m not particularly adventurous when it comes to spicy food of any sort, but this was well worth it.
The flavors I experienced in this dish weren’t typical of a spicy Asian or Mexican style food. The jerk chicken had a tropical, spicy flavor about it (enhanced by the mango chutney) and was a flavor I hadn’t been introduced to, but was happy to have met.
Seek out your warm beach, grab a towel, your Jamaican accent, a favorite steel drum band (I have one, don’t you?), and enjoy the tropical flavors a dish like jerk chicken has to offer.
Ya mon, check it deep.
– Gabrielle Castillo
Forgive the cliché pop-culture reference of a title I have chosen. Thank you, New Boyz.