Jamaican jerk shack chefs and family cooks alike keep their recipes for jerk sauce close to their chests. But all agree on a few key ingredients: allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme and garlic. Jamaican jerk should be challengingly spicy, so don't skimp on the peppers. They do mellow a bit during the cooking process.
The term jerk may come from the Spanish word for dried meat, charqui, which became jerky in English. It may also refer to the way the meat gets poked, prodded and jerked around the grill as it cooks.
Rub this spicy jerk sauce on chicken, pork, beef or fish. For pork shoulder, score the fat and rub the sauce into the cuts. Loosen the skin on whole or cut-up chicken and brush the sauce underneath it; brush some into the cavity as well. You can also use jerk sauce on a firm-fleshed fish such as grouper.
Marinate meat for at least eight hours or overnight; marinate scored whole fish for up to one hour and steaks or fillets for no more than half an hour. Grill the meat or fish slowly over a low fire, preferably charcoal, until it's done. The meat should look "pinkish," with dark skin. If you can find pimento wood (from the tree that yields the allspice berries), it adds a truly authentic flavor; it's available online and at some specialty food stores. Chop the meat into pieces and serve it island-style with fresh jerk sauce on the side, traditional hard dough bread and plenty of cold Jamaican Red Stripe Beer.
- 1/2 cup ground allspice berries
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 6 to 8 garlic cloves
- 4 to 6 Scotch bonnet peppers, seeded and cored
- 1 tablespoon ground thyme or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 2 bunches scallions
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce to moisten
- Put all of the ingredients into a food processor or a blender and process until smooth.
- You can put whole allspice berries straight into the food processor or blender, but be sure to use the equivalent of 1/2 cup ground.
- Adjust the number of peppers and garlic cloves according to your tolerance for heat.
- Wear gloves when you work with Scotch bonnet or other hot peppers.
- Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator indefinitely.
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