Be forewarned, if you cannot handle spicy-hot foods, jerk may not be for you. Deletion of the chile pepper vastly changes the end product, and it's just not jerk without the heat! Take a look at the three most important ingredients of jerk seasoning before trying an authentic Jamaican jerk recipe.
Jamaican Jerk IngredientsScotch Bonnet
The first main ingredient of jerk seasoning is Scotch bonnet chile pepper, a variety of the habanero, so named for the shape of the pepper which resembles a Scotch tam or hat. This pepper ranges in color from green to yellow to red, often mixed depending on the ripeness of the pepper. The purpose of the chile pepper was not only to spice up normally bland foods, but also to preserve foods when refrigeration was not easy to come by and to aid in digestion.
Habanero chiles are arguably the hottest in the world, according to the Scoville Chart, one thousand times hotter than the jalapeno. If you can't find Scotch bonnets in your local grocery store or ethnic market, you can substitute jalapeÃ±os, but it will be worth your effort to hunt down the real thing. You can also reduce the heat by omitting the seeds of the chile. As with all chiles, use rubber gloves when handling and cutting, avoid inhaling the fumes, and thoroughly wash your hands after handling.
The allspice (Pimenta dioica) berry, also known as Jamaica or Myrtle pepper, is a popular spice in Jamaica and a necessity in jerk seasoning. Be aware that this is not the ground combination spice powder that is often used in pumpkin pies and such, but the berry of the evergreen pimento (not related to the red pimiento peppers) tree, which is native to the West Indies and South America. Most of the world's supply comes from Jamaica. The dark brown, dried berries look similar to peppercorns, and can be purchased whole or ground. The aroma is similar to a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and its flavor is slightly peppery. Use a mortar and pestle to grind your own, or take the easy way with a spice, coffee or pepper grinder. Be aware that the outer layer contains the most flavor.
This common herb is also widely used in Jamaican foods, and is sold in dried bunches at the open-air markets. Jerk recipes may call for thyme leaves or ground thyme, both of which are readily available in markets. Thyme is also a digestive aid and has other beneficial health properties.
Authentic Jerk RecipeThe accompanying recipe comes from a dear friend of mine who was born and raised in Jamaica. Some years ago, she graciously took me on a guided tour of her home island, where I was treated to a variety of authentic, homemade Jamaican dishes. Do not miss any opportunity to visit this lovely island and sample their wonderful foods. This jerk seasoning recipe is one of Christine's specialties, and one of my all-time favorite dishes. I have also modified the recipe to be made indoors in an oven, rather than barbecued.
More About Jamaican Jerk Foods: Important Jerk Ingredients
What is jerk?
Authentic Jamaican Jerk Sauce Recipe
Jamaican Jerk Pork in the Oven Recipe
Jerk Sauce Ingredients Photo © 2010 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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