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Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meats are dry-rubbed or marinated with a very hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning is traditionally applied to pork and chicken. Modern recipes also apply Jerk spice mixes to fish, shellfish, beef, sausage, and tofu. Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called "pimento" in Jamaica) and Scotch bonnet peppers (among the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale). Other ingredients include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, and garlic.
Jerk chicken, pork, or fish is said to be at its best when smoked over aromatic wood charcoal or briquettes. The wood ("pimento wood"), berries, and leaves of the allspice plant among the coals contribute to jerk's distinctive flavor.
The Quechua word charqui (dried meat) gave the name to both the Caribbean term jerk and the North American term jerky. Jamaican "jerk" blends well the cultural origins and traditional cooking methods of many indigenous peoples native to the Caribbean, many of which developed smoking methods like jerk for easily transported food and long term sustenance. Of all the modern barbecueing processes, it corresponds most closely to the historical descriptions of cooking of protein in Caribbean based indigenous American (Taino) culture. The Tainos constructed a grid of immature 'green' sticks some distance above a shallow pit of smoldering ashes of green allspice-tree word ("pimenta wood"), placed the meat on the grid and cover it with allspice-tree leaves ("pimenta leaves") along with spices in order to impart further flavor while trapping the smoke for maximum effect.
In many indigenous cultures throughout the Americas, and especially in the Caribbean, jerk meat was a primary method of protein preservation. By cutting game and fish into strips and drying it in the sun for use at a later date, many native peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean were able to retain valuable meat for leaner times. A small fire was lit under the meat so that the smoke would prevent flies from laying their eggs on the raw meat. Native Americans also use a method similar to this, calling it jerky, as was shown in an episode of Ray Mears the survivalist's programme on the BBC. (See also jerky.)
A grill over an open fire suffices in contemporary cooking, but smoking the meat, either in a wood burning oven, smoker, shallow pit or wood barrel produces a more penetrating flavor in the protein. The wide availability of pre-made seasoning mixes give a passable jerk flavor to meat baked in a kitchen oven.
The term "jerk spice" (also often commonly known as Jamaican Jerk spice) refers to a spice rub. The word "jerk" refers to both the spice rub and to the particular cooking technique.
Jerk can be applied as a cooking method for many different types of proteins, including goat, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, tofu, and other types of proteins.
Jerk cooking has developed a worldwide following in most major Western European cosmopolitan urban centers.
The cooking technique of jerking, as well as the results it produces, is the result of a practice that has evolved over time from pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container of choice. Around the 1960s, Caribbean entrepreneurs seeking to recreate the smoked pit flavor in an easier, more portable method came up with a solution to cut oil barrels lengthwise and attach hinges, drilling several ventilation holes for the smoke. These barrels are often heated by layers of charcoal, which some say enhances the spicy, smoky taste. Alternatively, when these cooking methods aren't available, other methods of meat smoking, including wood burning ovens, can be used to jerk meat. However, oil barrels are arguably one of the most popular cooking methods for jerk in Jamaica.
Street-side "jerk stands" or "jerk centers" are frequently found in Jamaica and the nearby Cayman Islands but can be found throughout the Caribbean diaspora and beyond. Jerked meat, usually chicken or pork, can be purchased along with hard dough bread, deep fried cassava flatbread "bammy" (usually with fish) or Jamaican fried dumplings, called festival, a variation of sweet flavored fried dumplings made with sugar and served as a side. The starch in the bread balances the heat and the strong spice of the hot pepper in the jerk. Recipes for jerk spices vary, and there is often much debate around which chef's secret recipe of spices and herbs makes the best jerk seasoning.
Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world, and authentic jerk can now be found at restaurants almost anywhere a significant population of Caribbean descent exists, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States.
- ↑ Cross over Food: Re-Materializing Postcolonial Geographies
Cook, Ian and Michelle Harrison."Cross over Food: Re-Materializing Postcolonial Geographies". Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Sep., 2003), pp. 296-317. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) http://www.jstor.org/stable/3804578
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