Jerk 101

11-Roast-Fish-Jerk-Chicken-stand-ConeyIsland-Jason-LamWhat is jerk? Jerk is a Spanish word that comes from the Peruvian word charqui: a word for dried strips of meat like what we call jerky. The word jerk started as a noun referring to the dish, and then became a verb, jerking, or poking holes in meat so the spices could permeate the food.

More broadly, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica where meat is poked with tiny holes and coated (either dry-rubbed or wet marinated) with a fiery spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice.

Where’d jerk come from? Formerly enslaved Coromantee Africans in Jamaica are thought to be the originators of the jerk style sauce, developed as an adaptation, seasoning and slow cooking wild hogs over native allspice wood and using local herbs and spices, such as the fiery-hot Scotch Bonnet pepper.

What’s it made of? Jerk’s unique seasoning consists primarily of those hot peppers, along with allspice berries (called “pimento” in Jamaica). Many versions of the spice blend also include thyme and ginger, along with the possible addition of cloves, cinnamon, green scallions, garlic, brown sugar, and salt.

Island-jerk-blendAllSpice’s own Island Jerk Seasoning Blend contains thyme, allspice, onion, garlic, paprika, salt, chiles, mustard, jalapenos, white pepper, citric acid, and other spices.

What do you jerk? Pork and goat meat are prime candidates for jerking, but jerk chicken is easy / tasty, too, and is perhaps the best-known kind of “jerk” dish outside its native Jamaica.  Jerk spice blend also works well with fish, beef, sausage, even vegetables and tofu.

Making jerk chicken at home? Experts recommend that you leave the bone in the chicken pieces, for maximum taste and succulence.

Wet or dry jerk? You can easily make jerk dishes by applying a coating of Island Jerk Seasoning, which is essentially a dry rub, yielding a finished dish with a spicy crust. Turn the rub into a marinade with a little citrus juice, soy sauce, vinegar or olive oil, and your resulting jerk dish is one with juicier meat.

Want to learn more? See some jerk recipes? Try this link.

Photo credits:
11 Roast Fish Jerk Chicken stand at Coney Island, by Jason Lam on Flickr
Jerk stands off A1, James Willamor on Flickr