One love...one heart...
Nestled south of Cuba in the middle of the Caribbean sits the infamous island of Jamaica. Known to most for sunny beaches, reggae and ska music, and “herbal” influences on the mind, the island is also home to a diverse and colorful cuisine influenced by a history of visitors from all over the globe.
Jamaica is the quintessential example of the flavors of the Caribbean, being home to a wide variety of meats, seafood, and tropical fruit. Add in external influences and seasonings from Great Britain, Africa, Spain, China, and India; the result is a unique variety of ideas and flavors. Popular dishes include fried plantains, curry goat, and their national dish, ackee and saltfish (salted cod stew with ackee fruit).
Beyond the popular is also the subculture of Rastafarianism, and their own culinary discipline. Rastafarians hold to a vegetarian diet. They won’t eat pork, and strict followers will go full vegan. Some will use little to no salt in their cooking, and will prepare food in what they call “Ital”, which is mainly about fresh, pure, clean food.
Today we’re not going to dive into Rastafarian disciplines, but instead make two of Jamaica’s most known dishes. I've studied several recipes for these, but wanted to give much credit to Tracy of JamaicaTravelAndCulture.com for teaching me so much.
In Jamaica, Jerk is term not really used to describe someone, but more a culinary style. It’s the rubbing of meat with a special hot spice rub, marinating, and then cooking over an open fire. If you attempt to make this recipe, I’d forewarn you to protect your eyes, as the onion and jalapeño acids literally sent me to my shower to wash my eyes out.
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1-3 jalapeños
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup of orange juice
- 1/2 cup of white vinegar
- Juice of one lime
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of sugar
- 2 tsp of thyme
- 1 tsp of allspice
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of ginger
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp of pepper
- 1 whole chicken, or 4-6 chicken breasts
- Prep the chicken by cutting slashes into the meat. If using a whole chicken, then cut the chicken into four quarters.
- Place all the other ingredients into a food processor, and run until a purée forms.
- In a sealable container or bag, put the chicken inside and then pour the marinade on top.
- Seal the container and set it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Overnight is better.
- Fire up your grill or heat up your oven to 425°.
- Hold each piece of chicken with tongs and let the excess marinate drip off before placing on the grill or pan.
- Cook the chicken fully before serving.
Be extremely careful when preparing the marinade. The acids of the onion and jalapeños can wreak havoc on your eyes. I learned this the hard way, thus ending up in the shower washing my burning eyes out.
Please see variations on how to raise or lower the level of spiciness in this dish.
If you would not like this chicken to be too spicy, then slice the jalapeños in half lengthwise and remove the seeds before placing into the food processor. Use no more than two in this case. If you prefer spicy, then leave the seeds in, and double up on the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
This marinade will also work wonderfully on pork.
Jerk chicken is best served with rice and peas, as the side dish will act as a palette cleanser. Other options include fried plantains, fresh greens or fruit, or even Jamaican corn fritters known as festival.
A good jerk chicken needs a great side to fill the plate nicely, and one mainstay to serve is the traditional Jamaican rice and peas. Now I know when you look at this, you think “Peas? Those look like red beans.” It’s just vernacular. In Jamaica, what we call “beans”, they call “peas”.
What makes this dish such a perfect accompaniment for the spicy jerk chicken is the smooth flavor put into the rice via the coconut milk. It not only cleanses the palette from its spicy counterparts, but also stands well on its own even. I’d take leftovers and mix them with chicken or other ingredients to create some flavorful dinners, and now I can’t fathom cooking rice in plain water anymore.
So why don’t we make a pot?
Rice and Peas
- 1 can (15.5 oz) of kidney beans with liquid
- 1 can (13.5 oz) of coconut milk
- 2/3 cup of water
- 5 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 2 tsp of thyme
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of pepper
- 2 cups of rice
- 2 green onions, cut into 2-3 pieces each.
- 1 jalapeño, whole
- Pour the liquid of the kidney beans, coconut milk, and water into a medium saucepan.
- Place the pan on high heat and bring to a slow boil.
- Add in the garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and beans.
- Stir and then add in the rice. Stir again.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat.
- Add in the green onions and jalapeño before covering.
- Simmer until the rice is fully cooked.
- Remove the onions and jalapeño before serving.
You're free to mince the garlic, but I simply smash the cloves and put them in as is. The hot liquids break down the cloves and soak up their flavors. Same thing with the green onion.
When adding in the jalapeño, do not cut it. Just place it whole and uncut into the liquid. The goal isn't to add spiciness to the rice, but instead to boost the other flavors. I can't explain why this works, but it does.
To create that "dome" seen in the photo, simply fill a small bowl up tightly, then place a plate upside down on top of it. Flip it over and pull the bowl off. It's that easy.