Posted October 31, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News


In culinary circles, the word “jerk” has an entirely different meaning from the definitions found in your standard dictionary. To the gourmand, “jerk,” also refers to Jamaican Jerk or jerk rub, a highly pungent, flavorful seasoning underscored with Scotch bonnet chiles (also referred to in Jamaica as “country peppers”). Jerk originated on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.

Ingredients can vary, depending on the chef, but jerk is often made spicy and delicious with ginger, tamarind, nutmeg, thyme, green onions, allspice and the Scotch bonnet chile. Scotch bonnets, which come in several varieties, have a “round taste,” a concentrated heat delivered to the palate with apricot or fruity overtones. (The habanero pepper can be used as a substitute.) Most Jamaican chefs grind the whole spices by hand in a mortar and pestle to retain the aromatic oils. But to save time, modern chefs pulverize the spices in a spice grinder or coffee mill.

Allspice, another key ingredient in the seasoning, is a pea-size berry of the evergreen pimiento tree and is native to the West Indies and South America. The island of Jamaica, however, stocks most of the world’s supply. The spice is so named because it tastes like a fusion of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, which lends jerk its unique taste.

Jerk can be prepared as a wet paste or marinade or a dry rub. The medley is gently massaged into chicken, pork, beef or fish before grilled slowly (that’s key!) over a barbecue grill or in a pit or smoker. In the Caribbean, jerk chicken and jerk pork are especially popular. Roadside vendors often “jerk” the meat in ovens made from cut drums. The smell alone conjures up ravenous and unruly appetites. This gourmet seasoning is well worth your time to prepare. Make a big batch…the seasoning can be stored and preserved in a cool, dark place for six months in a jar with dried lime or grapefruit rind.

Red poblano rellenos. A scrumptious alternative to the traditional New Mexican green chile relleno is the red poblano relleno. Best roasted (roasting gives the poblano a broad, smoky, more earthy flavor), stuff this sweet, medium-hot pod with a mixture of spicy ground beef and pinto or black beans. Makes a great appetizer, or for a meal, top the pepper with sour cream and guacamole and serve with Spanish rice and a fruit salad. Poblanos measure about 4 to 5 inches long and 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Ripe Red Jalapenos. Consider substituting red bell peppers with red jalapenos in recipes. The red jalapeno is the ripe form of the green jalapeno. Slightly sweeter in flavor than the green, the red jalapeno tastes particular savory in salads and meatloaf. Roasted red jalapenos are often used for soups. Dried smoked jalapenos are known as chipotle chiles.

Dried chiles (for powder). Thick fleshed chile such as the jalapeno and serrano, says chilehead Dave Anderson, “won’t air dry even in low humidity climates before they rot so they’re smoked instead. Of course, if you have a dehydrator, anything can be dried and made into chile powder.”

Fired Up Poppers. Another chilehead, Baker Richardson, recently shared this recipe: Stuff sliced and de-seeded habaneros with a mixture of cream cheese and Wisconsin cheddar. Add a snippet of chives. Wrap each habanero with a half strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Bake at 425 degrees until bacon is done. “We also do this with jalapenos for the wimps in my family,” he writes. “Add a case of good beer and a Packer game and hey, life don’t get any better than this.”

Rise and Shine Chileheads! If you don’t sleep in on Saturdays, tune in The Mexican Kitchen, shown at 7:30 a.m. on public television station KRWG TV22 (cable, Channel 2). Hosted by chef Rod Santana, the show features mostly Tex-Mex recipes. But all is forgiven. Santana also offers wonderful chile tidbits. Last Saturday was no exception:

Pico de gallo means the “beak of the rooster” but “I don’t know why,” Santana acknowledged. (If a reader knows, please email or call me.) Typical pico de gallo ingredients include chopped tomatoes, onions, serranos, cilantro, salt and fresh lemon juice. (Cilantro gives the mix its earthy fresh smell.)

Hint: Before squeezing, roll a fresh lemon on the counter to loosen its juice.

Serrano means “from the mountain.” Serrano is the hottest chile generally available in the United States.

Recipe from Mike Bersell, a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and Chef of Disney’s 2112 room Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Jerk Rub is a moist paste used to pack around meats while they are smoked (or grilled). It nowhere resembles the dry powder you may be used to. Once you try the real thing, you’ll never go back!

Heat in a skillet about 5 minutes, turning often:

8 Tablespoons Allspice Berries

Combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor. Grind to a fine paste.

8 fresh Cinnamon Leaves or Bay Leaves
8 sprigs Fresh Thyme
16 Spring Onions
8 Garlic Cloves
12 fresh Scotch Bonnet Peppers
1 cup Pimentos
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog