Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A jerk you can stand to be around. . .

[This entry is from one of last year's newsletters. I just made some today, so I thought I'd post it to the blog.  As it is freaking delicious!]

Jamaican Jerk seasoning plays a strange role on the stage of American food.  Its strong cultural ties solicit the ooohs and ahhhs usually associated with ethnic fare, but most people pass it over because of its spicy reputation.   There are diluted versions in popular restaurants, but chances are pretty slim that any of you have ever had the real deal.  True Jerk.  (I haven't)  This is because a big part of the flavor of True Jerk comes from slow grilling over coals and as many branches of allspice as you can get to catch on fire.  This dilemma accompanies almost all ethnic culinary staples: they always require a list of exotic ingredients prepared in complicated ways with unusual tools. 
All you really need to make great jerk is a blender, a few chili peppers, a Bob Marley cd, and some common staples.  
The tricky part is finding the right chili peppers and knowing how to build in the right amount of heat for you.  Jalepenos or serranos won't do, they just don't have the same character. Once you have that in order you can put your Jerk seasoning on just about anything.

It starts with Scotch Bonnet peppers or Habanero peppers.  They're in season right now, so try your farmers market.  They’re very similar, some even claim they’re the same.  It’s a very fine line.  They have a similar aroma, indicative of Jerk, and are equally excruciating when is comes to heat.  And you can offset their heat some by subbing in another, less in-your-face pepper, such as Aji Dulce and Grenada or Trinidad Seasoning Peppers.  There is also the more readily-available Poblano pepper, which is a great compliment to a homemade Almost True Jerk. 

**When toying with serious chilies be aware that whatever touches them becomes a weapon of chemical warfare.   So wear a glove, wash your hands well and don't make any absent-minded trips to the bathroom.

Almost True Jerk Seasoning

1 bunch of scallions
1 shallot
8oz.  chili peppers, stems removed
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of all spice (freshly ground if you can)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil (corn, canola, soy, etc.)
3 tbsps soy sauce

1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until it becomes a semi-smooth paste.
(There's only one step, but I numbered it anyways for clarification. Dont be a smart a**!)

The final product: it aint exactly pretty but it does taste good.

In this recipe I call for a specified cumulative weight of peppers.  You can mix and match hot (or not-so-hot) peppers as long as they weigh eight ounces.  You could seed the peppers if you want to; some people do this because its removes a significant amount of heat, but it also removes a significant amount of flavor, so I prefer to err on the side of using less spicy peppers and leaving the seeds intact.

Now you have your Jerk you can put it on literally anything.  It’s most traditionally applied to chicken.   You would rub it onto the chicken, let it marinate overnight, and then grill or roast it.  Pork chops would be great too, or a slow roasted pork butt.  I love it on veggies and have even been spotted putting a spoonful or two into the foundation of rice and beans.  

I found a peculiar cut that you don’t always come across: lamb “riblets” (aka lamb breast). This whole side of ribs ran me about 7 bucks, and it turned out to be a great vehicle for my Jerk seasoning.  I just marinated it and then roasted it at 325 degrees for several hours . . . mmmmmmmmm

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