The Spice Is Right; Chillies, Peppers, Limes, Spices and Fragrant Smoke - Jamaica's Legendary Jerk Chicken Makes the Perfect Summer Barbecue

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 20, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Spice Is Right; Chillies, Peppers, Limes, Spices and Fragrant Smoke - Jamaica's Legendary Jerk Chicken Makes the Perfect Summer Barbecue


Byline: TOM PARKER BOWLES

Just around the corner from where I live, a mere patty's-throw away, is the Yeah Man Caribbean restaurant. Well, it's more of a takeaway really, a tiny space with a few token chairs. Here, Jeffery serves up some of the finest, freshest curry goat, cowfoot, callaloo (greens and meat) and stewed chicken you'll ever taste. A constant queue of happy punters is testament to the quality of his art.

But the moment the sun appears, these usually orderly lines suddenly transform into slavering hordes, all eager for a hit of his world-class jerk chicken.

Cooked on a split oil drum, perched on wobbly legs, the smoke alone is enough to drive an otherwise meek man to acts of brutal, random violence. It creeps in through our bedroom window and wafts gently along the corridor to my study - crisp, blackened poultry skin, burning fat and sweet, sweet flesh.

A hint of allspice, a tickling of chilli, a whisper of nutmeg and cinnamon.

All jostle for position up my nose and I lurch from my desk in a trance, like a zombie in search of fresh brains. Only when I have sated my urge can life begin once more. This jerk chicken is obscenely good.

There are as many different stories as to the dish's genesis as there are 'secret family recipes'. But most agree that Jamaica was the birthplace of jerk. Pork was spice spice

the original meat, a leftover from the Spanish conquest.

Another, less happy, reminder of their rule were the Maroons, African slaves left behind by the Spanish and, soon after, hunted mercilessly by the British. They needed meat that could be easily transported around, fodder well suited to a life on the run.

So they concocted a jerk seasoning from readily available ingredients that would not only preserve but flavour the meat, too.

There were habanero chillies, fierce but fruity, allspice, with its sweet, clovey tang, salt and fresh

pepper. Cooked over a fire of pimento wood (they probably learned the basics of barbecue from the region's indigenous Tainos people), this spicy, highly seasoned meat soon became synonymous with Caribbean food. …

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