I’ve been stuck in Port for too long now. The yacht I work on is in the shipyard. So for now, it is a time of sitting and staying in one place; a time when my mind wanders back toearlier travels.
Today, I’ve been thinking about Jamaica; a place of carnal color and debaucherous tales. But, my favorite memories of the place are not so much of climbing the waterfalls at Dunn’s River, leaping off the 45-foot cliffs above the Caribbean Sea at Rick’s, or vibrating with the sounds of reggae. My favorite memory is of what came after a trail ride through the ganja fields on a horse called Smoke. Now, before you jump to any conclusions about what that memory might entail, or how hazy it might be, let me tell you about the jerk chicken I had.
Hot and sweaty from the ride, I tied Smoke under the shade of a logwood tree. Not 20 feet away, a caravan had parked on the side of the road. The sharp smell of chilies from a steel barrel barbecue beside the truck had lured me off the trail and set my mouth to watering.
“You ever had jerk?” A scrawny Jamaican man in long jean shorts and a white tank top asked me, steel tongs in hand. His brown eyes never left the searing meat on the grill in front of him.
“Not here.” I said. My eyes could barely leave the scene either.
“Den you never had jerk.” He drawled. “Dis where it comes from.” His smile revealed two gold front teeth. He lifted a chicken leg from the grill and bent low to inspect the underside. His beehive of dreadlocks grazed low over the flames, threatening to ignite. “Dis one’s for you.” He wrapped the leg in paper and, along with the bundle, handed me a Red Stripe.
I sat at a worn and splintered wood picnic table. The hot sun seared my skin as much as the flames had done the chicken. I took a long pull of the beer before picking up the meal. It was a good thing I did. Once I brought the leg to my mouth, I couldn’t put it down. The flavor exploded in my mouth. Sweetness and spice battled for dominance. Steam rose off the flesh as I tore into it. My tongue burned. Neither the heat nor the spice stopped me from devouring the whole thing in minutes. The man at the grill glanced over and laughed.
I nodded vigorously. He began wrapping another piece. “Nobody ever has just one.”
It was that taste I thought of while I sat planning the menu for lunch today. I may not be able to travel while the boat is in drydock, but I’m always ready to try and replicate that experience again. And again.
JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN (SERVES 6)
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat “is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a very hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning is traditionally applied to pork and chicken. Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called “pimento” in Jamaica) and peppers.
1. In a food processor, combine the rum, cider vinegar, green onions, garlic, thyme, scotch bonnet, canola oil, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, pepper, brown sugar, and ketchup; process to a coarse paste. Pour the marinade into a large, shallow dish, add the chicken, and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring the chicken to room temperature before proceeding.2. Light a grill. Grill the chicken over a medium-hot fire, turning occasion- ally, until well browned and cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter and drizzle with lime juice.
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1⁄2 whole nutmeg, grated
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
12 chicken thighs
2 limes, juiced
3 tablespoons dark rum
1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar 2 bunches green onions
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons dried thyme 1⁄2 scotch bonnet, minced
(depending on heattolerance)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ground allspice