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Jerk, Jamaica’s Iconic Edible Export

Centuries before pepperoni sticks, granola, or crackers became ubiquitous, the Maroons created one of the world’s most delectable gourmet creations in the form of jerk seasoning in the heavily forested mountains where pimento groves and wild pigs were plentiful. Jerk seasoning is one of Jamaica’s iconic exports. It is a paste of pulverized allspice (pimento), scotch bonnet peppers, onion, garlic, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions, and up to thirty more ingredients depending on the jerk master. These food stuffs all grow wild in the short bushes of the deep interior of Portland, Jamaica where there are several Maroon encampments.

Maroons were runaway slaves who were so smart and fierce; the British signed a treaty to leave them alone.  In order for them to subvert capture from the British slave masters in which they escaped, the Maroons perfected a method of cooking untamed boar with their marinade by poking holes in it, sealing the flavorful dressing with banana leaves and other flora to hold the pig together as it slowly cooked in a fire pit flanked by pimento bark and other fragrant wood that was covered so as not to alert the Maroon’s enemies with smoke.

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Now we can cook and eat Jerk in the open without the fear of notice. It is a very handy and resourceful spice to have in the dry or wet forms. You can make your spice rubs yourself if you can find scotch bonnet peppers or you can buy many good commercial products at the store.  Jerk is a nice addition to any summer menu. Traditionally chicken and pork were jerked in Jamaica. However, in this day and age, anything can be jerked with spicy and mouthwatering results. I am partial to lamb, salmon, bluefish, tofu, corn and any food that can stand up to the flavors of scotch bonnet peppers and allspice. To adjust your spice you can use 1 teaspoon to a pound for very mild to 1 tablespoon for hot depending on the spiciness of the jerk seasoning. To tame the taste, use more allspice in the seasoning and also add onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika to mellow out the heat.

I love jerk and use the spice in so many ways. I add it in soup to lend a smoky, seething, floral taste to the broth. It is the perfect addition to jazz up rice and peas to give it that over the top mouth flavor. Dry jerk seasoning mixed with brown sugar is a distinctly assertive spice rub for a summer BBQ. Here find 3 jerk recipes using salmon, filet mignon, and baby back ribs. The salmon can be done for an easy midweek meal, the steak is for those special occasions, and the ribs are an ode to summer for you to enjoy at your next BBQ.  There are three distinct cooking methods for you to try jerking your way around the kitchen to foster your inner global gourmet.  Please tell us how your forays in Jerk go, mon!

This post was written by Nadine Nelson, Chef and Owner, Global Local Gourmet – Cooking Up Delicious Adventures Far from Expected Yet Close to Home, go check her out! http://globallocalgourmet.tumblr.com

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