The Genius of Jamaica's Jerk Cuisine
Jerk is a method of seasoning and grilling meat that has its origins with the Tainos and later the Jamaican Maroons. The Jerk method of cooking was primarily used in the cooking of pork, helping to preserve the meat for days while people travelled through the countryside. Jerk was applied to wild hogs found in the Blue Mountain region of Portland. The meat was cleaned and dressed with spices and seasonings found around the area, then wrapped in pimento leaves for flavour. The pig would be lowered into a pit with hot coals with additional coals added on top. The pit was covered for 6 – 8 hours to allow the heat to cook through the meat.
Jerked meats are now widely available and methods of cooking vary. Some Maroon descendants still practice the traditional method of Jerk in the Portland region, while for the modern consumer pimento wood racks over hot coals, grills and ovens are ready substitutes. Each cook has his own mixture of seasonings and spices that is believed to best enhance the flavour of the particular meat being cooked. Despite the variation in the spices used, some key ingredients are never absent – escallion, thyme, onions, pimentos and Scotch Bonnet pepper.
Jamaica offers a variety of jerked meats. Many eateries provide, along with the traditional jerked pork, jerked chicken, fish, lobster and sausages. Jerk marinades are available in many stores locally and from specialty purveyors worldwide. Jerked foods are often served with hardough bread, festival, roasted yam or roasted sweet potatoes. The prevalence of the Scotch Bonnet pepper often requires the meal be accompanied by other Jamaican favourites, Red Stripe Beer or coconut water.