Where Did Jamaican Jerk Chicken Come From?
One of the most well-known Caribbean foods is Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Most Caribbean and Jamaican restaurants serve this dish – but do you know its origins?
The origins of this recipe go back 2500 years to the settling of Jamaica by the Arawak tribe. This tribe, from Peru, used the word charqui for strips of dried meat. We now know those strips of dried meat as “jerky,” and thus begins the origins story for the Jamaican Jerk seasoning and cooking style.
Jerk really got its start when a series of wars were fought between British settlers and soldiers wanting independence from their captors. The soldiers lived in the mountains and to survive, they had to make use of the foods that they could find there – wild game, hot peppers, and a variety of spices. The soldiers used the method to preserve wild boar and other game.
They also wanted to be covert in their cooking – after all, since they were fighting for their independence, they didn’t want to be caught or give away their locations, so they began cooking with an underground cooking method demonstrated to them by the Taino people also inhabiting the mountains. Learning to smoke their meet in this way allowed them to enjoy sustenance while also continuing to be free.
The green pimento board was generally used in order to drive away insects, so that the meat wouldn’t be touched by them. It was also used to smoke the meat, helping to preserve it and lengthen the time it could be stored.
This method of cooking allowed those fighting for their freedom to move around as they needed to and to find new places to take refuge from their would-be British captors. For a long time, Jamaican Jerk was a tradition in celebratory meals, as pointed out by Vaughn Stafford Gray in Smithsonian Magazine, it was “freedom manifested in food.”
Jamaican Jerk flavoring is a paste or a marinade. This marinade includes pimento, or allspice, and scotch bonnet peppers. The meat is then doused in the marinade and slow cooked over a pimento board. This creates its signature smokey flavor. Chefs will often add scallions, pepper, salt, thyme, and other spices native to Jamaica to their recipes, creating a savory and spicy dish.
While pork was the original meat used most often with the Jamaican Jerk method of cooking, the marinade has been extended to chicken, seafood, and other meats. Once the various ingredients for the paste have been run through a food processor, then the meats must marinate at least six hours – so that the flavors can really infuse the chicken, pork, or seafood.
While Boston Beach is known for its Jerk pork and chicken, Jerk chicken can be found around the world – both in major cities like New York and Miami and in our own Midwestern city of Indianapolis at Jamaican Breeze Sports Bar & Grill. Our Jerk chicken is served with rice and peas and garnished with steamed cabbage and plantain – all beautifully plated for your enjoyment.