Saturday, July 2, 2016

Confessions of a Jerk Lover and Maker

I would like to dedicate this post in loving memory of The Sweet Mango Cafe on New Hampshire Ave NW across from Georgia Ave Metro station, R.I.p. Lord, you know you been gone from your hometown too long when one of your favorite spots changes hands (ownership) for the worst and then closes down unbeknownst to you. I'm hurting! Like I lost a friend for real, a good one...whew. I'm going to be alright.
 (Image credit
(Image credits for food from Sweet Mango Cafe

Papa Smurf and I were married at the RIU in Ocho Rios, JA in '09. It was our second time traveling out of the country and our daughter who was 6 months at the time first time. The RIU Club Hotel Ocho Rios to this day is still a beautiful all inclusive resort and sought after wedding venue. Ours was one of the only ceremonies that week to not be rained on or washed out. We frequented the Jerk Hut on the beach almost daily.

In the latest vlog we're back at the grill making one of our favorites jerk chicken. I based my standard for jerk chicken on two sources. One of them being the dearly departed Mango Cafe. The second source...shout out to the Davis family in Bowie, MD. The Mango Cafe, I first stumbled upon this gem during my undergrad years, 2006 to be exact. I was with a couple of friends for the Caribbean Carnival in D.C. Good old posterity…

The Jerk there had a perfect blend of heat and smoke. It was seasoned throughout, salted but not overly so. The bread was so pillow soft yet dense enough to soak up the flavorful juices of the jerk chicken without getting soggy. It’s been years but I can still taste the smoke flavor, the spice of the scotch bonnet, the thyme, garlic, all spice, ginger, lime and so on.

The Davis family our former neighbors invited us to several family gatherings with open arms and great food. They are a colorful and fun loving family with roots in Jamaica. They even took my younger sister home with them during a vacation once. They always had a delectable spread of goodies inspired by their culinary heritage. Their jerk chicken was chopped and spicy. Marinated in a dark and pasty marinade. Jerked meats do look “blackened” in appearance so a dark and pasty marinade didn’t surprise me. Their jerk was the second standard for how I established the way that jerk should taste. And who better? In their marinade I could taste the thyme, pimiento (all spice) and scotch bonnet are very pronounced. It’s very tasty but quite spicy.

 I have a confession to make though, at home (not events) we use a shelf staple marinade Walkerswood. This is as close to authentic as you can get. And let me tell you there are alot of imposters on the large chain store grocery shelves that just fall short of anything close to authentic let alone a hint of the actual flavor. Be careful with this one though, it’s quite spicy and most stores I have been to do not sell the mild version.

During family events and on Thanksgiving, however, we have our own marinade. It is an adapted recipe, tweaked to match the taste of my two standards for jerk. The origins of our marinade have a heavy basis here. I have alot of insights on my adaption of the recipe. Instead of a whole chicken I use leg quarters. Dark meat, especially leg quarters work best in my opinion. They are excellent candidates for grilling jerk style chicken. I use apple cider vinegar instead of white distilled, I prefer the malt in the cider vinegar. I use an orange juice that is not high in sugar or overly sweetened. If I have a small orange on hand I will use that but my favorite orange juice to use is Simply Orange. I do not use a canned concentrate or a frozen concentrate, I highly recommend avoiding canned orange juice. I also prefer to use fresh fresh ginger root because it’s alot spicier than the powder and more flavorful. I use brown sugar in place of the white sugar and ultimately end up using less sugar. My last tweak is that I use less scotch bonnet peppers, only two. They are quite spicy especially if you keep the seeds and ribs in tact; which I do, I use the whole pepper without the stem. When it comes to herbs like thyme I always opt for fresh thyme over dried. I use both Walkerswood and my homemade marinade for not only chicken but turkey, ribs, and fish.

Jerk Chicken Recipe (Marinade)

4-5 Chicken Leg Quarters
1 Small bunch of fresh thyme (about 5 sprigs/stems)
2 Scotch Bonnet peppers
2 Tablespoons of ground allspice
8 cloves of garlic (unchopped)
3 small yellow onions (chopped)
1 Tablespoon of brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt
2 teaspoons of fresh black peppercorns
2 Teaspoons of cinnamon
1-2 Teaspoons of nutmeg
1 1/2 inch of fresh ginger root peeled
1/2 Cup of olive oil
1/2 Cup of soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup of fresh orange juice
1 cup of apple cider vinegar

Blend all of the ingredients in a blender until well blended. Next, place chicken in a large bowl, pour at least two cups of marinade over chicken. Then, using gloves rub the marinade into the chicken and under the skin. Marinade the chicken overnight. Bake or grill as usual. We grill over hot coals for at least an hour using the indirect heat method as shown in our upcoming vlog.