Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pirates, Jamaica and the Best Jerk Chicken Salad Ever

Errol Flynn as my favorite Pirate of the Caribbean, Captain Blood

Memorial Day will soon fling open the gates to a new summer and turn my thoughts to Jerk Chicken Salad –– Jerk Chicken Salad means Memorial Day for me.

I wrote about my Memorial Day visits to Vermont (HERE) and the food-fest of grilling and eating that goes on there for days and days. The grilled salmon, duck breast and pork take center stage for dinner but part of the schedule of the massive grill is always reserved for the making of jerk chicken for my friend Kath’s Jerk Chicken Salad.

It’s a recipe from an old 90’s cookbook that I don’t recall the name of but whoever conceived of its extravagant flavors deserves a medal.  It is a great recipe with banana ketchup and heat –– lots of heat via the melting pot of world spices that is Jamaica.

I always think of pirates when I think of Jamaica. Even after the Pirate mecca Port Royale was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692, Jamaica had a notorious reputation as a pirate haven. Why do we love pirates and their hangouts? When I read the following descriptions of Jamaica from the golden age of Pirates (the 17th and early 18th centuries) I can see why –– the wicked, wicked ways (that have been rather sanitized in film portrayals) of deliciously bad boys are irresistible.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

Ned Ward’s 1697 account of Jamaica (quoted in a great article on Jamaican food by British Food in America) said it was the “Dunghill of the Universe, the Receptacle of Vagabonds, the Sanctuary of Bankrupts, the close-stool for the purges of our prisons, as hot as hell, and as wicked as the Devil.”  It was called The Sodom of the Indies and its pleasures included drinking, wenching, gambling and fencing stolen goods –– a perfect location for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow or Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood –– and hot and spicy Jerked pork and chicken.


The food of the island was a mix of the cuisines of Britain, Africa, India and China that met thanks to Jamaica’s ports and the trading of its sugar, coffee, chocolate and other valuable commodities the rich land provided.  Jamaica had a lot to trade with and the hard living inhabitants came to love spicy, grilled food. The fact that the hot humid climate made meat go off in the blink of an eye may have had something to do with the fashion for spicy smoking as well.  I had a bottle of hot sauce that I got on a visit to the islands that remained good for years –– nothing can grow in that many Scoville Units to make it go off. The appetite for jerk remained long after the pirates moved on.  

Dave DeWitt of Fiery Foods quoted a Hans Sloane, 1707:  “[Wild hogs were] “cut open, the bones taken out, and the flesh is gash'd on the inside into the skin, fill'd with salt and expos'd to the sun, which is call'd jirking... [This meat was] brought home to their masters by the hunters, and eats much as bacon, if broil'd on coals.”  

DeWitt also posited "The technique of jerking was originated by the Maroons, Jamaican slaves who escaped from the British during the invasion of 1655 and hid in the maze of jungles and limestone sinkholes known as the Cockpit Country. The Maroons seasoned the pork and cooked it until it was dry and would preserve well in the humidity of the tropics. During the twentieth century, the technique gained enormous popularity in Jamaica and today "jerk pork shacks" are commonly found all over Jamaica. The method has evolved, however, and the pork is no longer overcooked." 

There is a theory that the Maroon technique of pit cooking was a way to keep telltale smoke to a minimum and evade capture –– the delicious smokiness was a lucky by-product.  Some feel the earlier inhabitants of the island, the Carib and Arawak Indians were the ones who started using spice and citrus to preserve meat in the hot climate and the Maroons merely borrowed the recipe and innovated the cooking technique.

One of the secrets of true Jamaican jerk is pimento wood.  Don’t worry, if that got you confused you are not alone.  It has nothing to do with little scraggly green pepper plants.  No, it’s actually the greenwood of the allspice tree (although orange and guava wood or laurel wood is also smoked).  It seems you can buy it in the US and Canada if you want to do it properly but a pimento wood expert said fruitwood (like apple) would be a good alternative if not authentic.  Also, the time tested jerk technique involves thick sticks of green wood that are set between the meat and the grill so that the pimento wood touches the meat and both smokes and flavors it over the long cooking time.  Pimento leaves are also added to the smoke mixture.

Recipes for Jerk are as varied as those of spaghetti sauce and have evolved over time.  It seems originally it was salt and a lot of pepper but the mix is now more complex including Scotch bonnet peppers and even rum –– I add rum to my jerk recipe and love it. Although the jerk recipe is blazing hot, grilling cools it down considerably.  Don't be afraid!  Do take care when working with scotch bonnets as they can burn your eyes and nose if you touch them –– do wash your hands well after making this.

If you don’t have access to a grill you can make this in the oven but it won’t be as great –– the smoke is key to its greatness –– do use any fruitwood chips or sticks soaked in water when you make this even on a gas grill.  I think it is the perfect dish to bring to a holiday event, and was the first thing that came to mind when Creative Cooking Crew challenge was announced as a picnic potluck.  I’m crazy about it and think you will be too.

Oh, I thought for the grilling season I'd share a favorite thing with you.  A zillion years ago, a friend brought a brilliant housewarming present for a weekend.  It was a stack of melamine plates that looked like Provençal pottery but were unbreakable.  In the many years I have used them, I've gotten so many compliments and requests,  "Where did you get them?" Mine came from a place in the Hamptons but I looked up a resource for them for you –– you can get them HERE or HERE.  Since they are light and unbreakable, they go easily from kitchen to picnic table and last forever –– taking a dozen to the picnic table won't require a trip to the back doctor!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Banana Guava Ketchup serves 6-8

1 recipe for jerked chicken cooled, bones removed and chicken chopped roughly –– skin included.
1 recipe banana ketchup (you may want to use  ¾ of it depending on how sweet you like it and reserve the rest, taste and decide)
1 large red onion, chopped

½ c mayonnaise
1 c chopped parsley
additional salt to taste

You should have around 7 cups of chicken.  Add red onion, ketchup, parsley and mayo and toss for Kathy’s best jerk chicken salad.

Serve with salad greens –– I like the bitter ones with this like radicchio, arugula, friseé and endive.

Jerk Chicken

½ c Inner Beauty hot sauce or 10 scotch bonnet chilis
2 T  Fresh rosemary
2 T  Fresh parsley
2T Fresh basil
2T Fresh thyme
½ to 1 t allspice
2 T mustard seeds
3 scallions finely chopped
1 t salt
1 t pepper
juice of 2 limes
¼ c yellow hot dog mustard
2 T orange juice
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T rum

6 chicken thighs with legs

Combine ingredients and put in a blender or processor to have the texture of tomato sauce. If it’s too thick, thin with vinegar.  Let paste sit for 2 hours.  Rub on thighs and grill over low heat to get as much smoke as possible–– I'd say 1/2 an hour at least.  I added more wood chips mid-way to get maximum smoke.

Banana Ketchup (freezes well)

1 yellow onion
2 T oil
5 ripe bananas
4 oz guava paste -- although I have used 1/2 c guava nectar successfully
2 T brown sugar
2 1/2 T raisins
1 T curry powder
½ c fresh orange juice
2 T white vinegar
2 T lime
s & pepper

Sauté onion in oil 5-7 minutes.  Add banana and cook 5 minutes.  Add guava paste and the rest of the ingredients save 1 T vinegar and 1 T lime juice and boil. Then simmer 15 minutes till the consistency of applesauce.  Add remaining 1T of vinegar, lime juice and s & p.

Come by HERE or HERE this week to see the great sandwiches the crew has come up with

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La Table De Nana said...

You know what? This sounds like a holiday salad:)

Jerk..banana..all sounds tropical to me..
Your presentation is lovely .

Victoria said...

I love Caribbean food, and Jerk chicken is definitely a classic! This salad is a much more refined representation of the dish and a great picnic addition!

Kathy Walker said...

Tasty salad! I love jerk chicken and I totally enjoyed the history behind the meal!

pam said...

Banana ketchup!!! Since I am partial to condiments - this immediately captures my attention!

Unknown said...

i totally want to try that banana ketchup!! lovely salad :)

Barbara said...

Of course, you know I scrolled right down to the banana ketchup recipe! Yum.
I've had jerk in the Caribbean many times; loved reading your history. Can't quite see myself making it, but do like having a recipe for it in my never know.
The plates are fun...we have a Sur la Table here, I'll go in and take a look. We used to use colorful tin ones for our picnics. Look how elegant things have become over the years! Love it.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning Deana! THANK YOU FOR COMING! Now, the party starts today and runs until NEXT FRIDAY.....I hope visitors will make it back to your post as I am guessing that while the party is starting, most people will be visiting early on in the party. I thank you for participating and I look forward to seeing your post next week! Anita

Creations by Marie Antoinette and Edie Marie said...

I loves me some Jack Sparrow for me dinner mate!!! LOL.ICan you tell I love Johnny Depp? A wonderful post.I will have to try out that chicken.It would be a lovely new salad for this summer.
Was a pleasure to meet you.
Marie Antionette

Art and Sand said...

I clicked on your blog via the party at Castles Crowns and Cottages. I saw that your French entry isn't up yet, but the word Jamaica caught my eye and brought back memories. I lived in Jamaica in the early 70s, teaching school. We spent a wonderful night in a special evening, arranged by the US Peace Corps, at Port Royale. Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, rice and beans - all some of our favorite foods.

Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

Yummy, this looks delicious.
Stopping by via Castles Crowns and Cottages.

helen tilston said...

The receipe appeals greatly to me on this warm late Spring evening.
Thanks for sharing your recipe. I stopped by following my visit to Anita

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is gorgeous, colourful and packed full of flavour. And so fascinating about the pimento wood too. The picture of Jamaica that you drew was so vivid! :)

Ann said...

Very interesting post.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

So nice to meet you Deana. This looks simply delicious!
What a wonderful addition to Anita's party.

Sarah said...

Wow, you even make the banana ketchup. I was thinking of making a trip to the Asian grocer in town until I saw your recipe. Sounds like a great picnic salad.

The French Hutch said...

Stopping in to say hello from Anita’s party. The food looks delicious!

The French Hutch

lindaraxa said...

Havana and Port Royal...the mecca for pirates in those days although I think we were a tad more sedate in my neck of the woods.

Interesting to see how many basic ingredients both foods have in common and how different their cuisines developed. Jamaica stayed pretty true to its roots, while ours continued to evolve from Spanish and Moorish influences. Of course, rum and sugar stayed the course!

The catsup looks divine. must try. what kind of guava paste do you use. The one we eat in Cuba comes in a long bar and it's pretty solid.

Fun post, great recipe!

hi-d said...

Looks beautiful and yummy.

Draffin Bears said...

Great to discover your blog, via Anita's party.
The food looks delicious and Johnny playing Jack Sparrow, Hmmm irresistible.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

This is a great recipe for chicken salad (one of my favorite things of all time done anyway).

Berthillon was our next door neighbor on ile st louis and because of the lines we had never gone in our last trips. We went at your suggestion and it was AMAZING; can't thank you enough. I did some research online and many chefs said they preferred RAIMO icecream in the Marais but it didn't even compare (we did a taste test of course). I had 2 scoops of the Frambroise a la rose at Berthillon- like eating fresh raspberries in a rose garden. Just amazing - a revelation even!

Marjie said...

We have some digestive tracts here which don't do well with highly spiced foods, but any kind of chicken salad is wonderful for the warmer weather.

And, of course, my sons would all like to be pirates, what with the wenching, gambling, drinking and whatnot. Probably typical of late teen and 20-something guys, right?

Angela said...

I am so glad someone brought a spicy salad to the picnic. I want some of that inner beauty hot sauce. Yum.

Faith said...

What a fantastic addition to a picnic! I can't wait to to try your Jerk Chicken recipe. Summer always means pirates in my mind too, lol. said...

definitely a great addition to our picnic. I love your posts and never get tired of telling you.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

As I was typing my comment on your latest post I looked down and saw this one. I can't believe I missed it! Oh my, it has been a hectic couple of weeks.

I love that description of Jamaica by Ned Ward - LOL.

Would you believe I've never had jerk anything? Your salad looks delicious and love the presentation!

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana - sounds absolutely delicious. Like the addition of rum, and not afraid of the heat.
Really like the plates too.
Have a Happy Memorial Day! Say hi to Johnny.

LaDivaCucina said...

Hi Deana, I love jerk anything. I remember the first time having jerk chicken off a grill at a roadside stand in Jamaica! I always love the idea of spicy components to a cool and crunchy salad. I only had banana ketchup one time when I was living in L.A. a Filipino coworker brought some in but of course home made would be the best and I've never seen a recipe before. Hats off to you for being so diverse in your recipes. And I only do melamine for outdoor dining, too many chipped and broken plates and platters to replace! Thanks for participating.

Erica said...

The banana-guava ketchup sounds amazing!I love all your posts!