The Tainos, the ancient people of Jamaica, preserved meat by mixing peppers, allspice and sea salt, a condiment now known as Jamaican jerk spice. Along with influences from British colonists, African immigrants and others, jerk is one of the focal points of modern Jamaican cuisine.
A well-known Jamaican preparation is "jerk" meat, either pork, chicken, or fish. The word is said to have originated from an indigenous South American language, and traveled to English via Spanish and, possibly, the Arawak language. It does not, as some jerk vendors will tell you, refer to the reaction of your central nervous system as you eat this spicy preparation. The Maroons, ever on the run, are believed to have preserved and perfected the cooking method during their many years ensconced in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country. Today, jerk chicken or pork can be found at most roadside stands throughout the country. The best can be found at Boston Beach, located east of Port Antonio in Portland. There, the vendors sell not only the meat, but the jerk seasoning as well.
The "jerk" method involves preparing the meat with a mixture of pepper, pimento, nutmeg, cinnamon, possibly garlic, scallions, salt, and the cook's secret ingredients (one has claimed more than 35 ingredients in his sauce). The seasoned meat is grilled slowly over coals from hardwood while covered with mahoe wood slats or even corrugated tin sheets. Small roadside vendors often jerk their pork or chicken in colorful ovens made from cut drums, and the smell will lead you to them. Jerk pork, sausage, and chicken are sold by the pound, or by the section.
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This page modified January 2007
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