The History Of Jamaican Jerk
What is jerk cooking?
Jerk refers to a way that a meat, be it chicken, beef, pork, goat, fish, vegetables or fruit is seasoned and cooked. This style comes from Jamaica. The typical cooking style uses a marinade or paste that includes at least pimento, which is often called allspice, and scotch bonnet peppers, also known as habenero. The meat is then marinated and slow smoked over pimento wood. Pimentia or pimento is a Spanish word for pepper and early European explorers mistook this for black pepper, so they called it pimento.
Origin of the word jerk
According to most food history authorities, jerk is a Spanish word that comes via the Peruvian word charqui, a word for dried strips of meat like what we call Jerky, in much of the world. The word started as a noun and then became a verb as in "Jerking" which meant to poke holes in the meat so the spices could permeate the meat. Jerk also could have come from the turning of the meat in the marinade or from the way some folks will just jerk a strip from the roast on the BBQ. We just don't really know.
When did jerk start?
In the 1700's some of the slaves escaped and hid in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and became known as Maroons, They had to keep watch closely to evade the British army from recapture.
With food in short supply they learned to catch wild boars in the forest. Using salt , peppers and spices they learned to preserve the meat. They knew not when their next kill would be.The meat was spiced and wrapped in leaves to keep. When it came time to cook it they just placed it all in with hot rocks then covered or it was BBqued over a lattice of wood.
This evolved with the use of different spices to the cooking style that we know today as Jerk.
Jerk "huts" are all over the Caribbean Islands, and you can find them by the lovely smell.
Many times they are shacks that are octagonal or circular built around a telephone pole to support the thatched roof. Dining is outside, as well as the cooking of the food. These days there are lots of Jamaican deals online for the avid Jerk lover, making it more affordable than ever to take a trip to the islands and experience the local flavor of authentic Jamaican Jerk.
Scotch bonnet peppers