As my twin boys get older (they’re 11 now) and their taste buds begin to mature, I’ve been most pleased to see them develop a real craving for many of the same West Indian foods I enjoyed whilst growing up in the region. Roti, of course, is a BIG favorite, as are empanadas, Johnny Cakes, conch salad – the list goes on and on.
The pride I’ve felt watching them grow into their West Indian selves, though, has been tempered somewhat by my *ahem* insecurities in the kitchen. I’m no super chef, an unfortunate truth I’ve proven time and again.
Ask my kids, though, and they’ll tell you that I definitely excel at preparing at least one iconic Caribbean dish – jerk chicken.
Granted, I have no Jamaican roots (at least not any that I know of) and my kids have yet to step foot in JA, but they swear that my jerk chicken is boss. I can think of three primary reasons why they might be right…
I Take My Time
From the time that former slaves escaped to the interior mountains of Jamaica and joined up with Arawaks (circa 1650s), melding their African spices and seasonings with the Indians’ long-practiced (and time consuming) meat-smoking techniques, jerk cooking has always been slow cooking.
There’s just no rushing any part of the process.
I season my meat carefully, thoroughly, employing a dash or two of olive oil to ensure a healthy dose of jerk seasoning settles on every inch of chicken. (The olive oil also helps to keep your chicken moist through the grilling process.)
Marinating for me is always a two-night process, giving all those yummy jerk spices plenty of time to become one with the meat.
Grilling goes slow too, the majority of cooking done over indirect heat with plenty of water sprayed on the meat throughout the process to further ensure a juicy and delicious outcome.
Oh, and speaking of grilling…
I Always Use Real Wood Charcoal
There really is no substitute to even approach achieving authentic jerk flavor. And this isn’t just another nod to the earliest jerk cooking traditions either.
Jerk food is supposed to be smoky, the pimento wood over which jerk meats, fish, fruits, and veggies are grilled in jerk huts all across Jamaica adding a distinctly aromatic smoky flavor that’s simply irresistible.
While most of us aren’t liable to find pimento wood for our grilling adventures, real wood charcoal works in such a way that gas grills and even charcoal briquettes just can’t match.
I Always Use Walkerswood
The first Jamaican company to export jerk sauce to the world, Walkerswood is still widely hailed as the best.
Much more than just some sterile corporate brand name, Walkerswood is actually a small rural town nestled in the hills of St. Ann’s Parish. Back in the late-1970’s, farmers there banded together to found Walkerswood Caribbean Foods to create local employment.
Their first product, Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, set the company off on a course for success.
You can smell, taste, and even feel the real Jamaica in this stuff!
Scotch bonnet, cane sugar, thyme, scallions, salt, black pepper, allspice (pimento berries), nutmeg, thyme, and citrus, all of it sourced from local Jamaican farmers, is packed into every bottle. This makes chicken jerked with Walkerswood about as close to the real deal you might get served in the shacks along Boston Bay, or at Scotchie’s or The Pork Pit in MoBay.
It also makes me come across as a mater jerk chicken chef to my kids, a priceless side benefit worth every penny of the $3.69 I pay for the 10oz jar on the shelves of my local Super Target.
If you can’t find Walkerswood on a store shelf near you, order it online here.