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Lively jerk cooking: Discover Caribbean flavor, Jamaican spice

Lively jerk cooking: Discover Caribbean flavor, Jamaican spice

Posted by Shanelle Weir on July 23, 2014

Native to Jamaica, “jerk” is a way of cooking in which meat, typically chicken or pork, is dry-rubbed or marinated in a wet mixture comprised of allspice (in Jamaica it’s called “pimento), cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, scallions — and the heat of very hot peppers, such as the Scotch Bonnet pepper.

The hotness (piquancy) of a pepper is calculated on the “Scoville” scale, named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who devised it in 1912. Depending on the amount of capsaicin, or Scoville heat units (SHUs) a pepper contains, it is given a number from 0 to 10. To give you a frame of reference, sweet peppers, like bell peppers and Cubanelle peppers, under 100 SHUs, score 0 on the Scoville scale, while the searing Scotch Bonnet pepper, found mainly in the Caribbean, and habanero pepper measure a searing 10, with 100,000-350,000 SHUs.

Believe it or not, peppers, can be hotter still, with rating of 10-plus. According to tests conducted in 2012, with a staggering average of 1,569,300 units of heat, the Guinness World Record for the hottest chili pepper was awarded to the “Carolina Reaper,” a hybrid chili pepper bred by cultivator “Smokin’” Ed Currie, founder of the PuckerButt Pepper in Fort Mill.

While some seek spicy hot cuisine with enthusiasm, many find it uncomfortably unpalatable, so the recipe here for Caribbean-style Jerk Chicken Stir Fry is made with the relatively tame (2,500-8, 0000 SHUs) jalapeño pepper. To balance the heat with the spice, the dish is also plenty sweet, thanks to the inclusion of honey and brown sugar, which, of course, can be adjusted according to preference.

Sweet potatoes and slaw pair nicely with the meal and for dessert, the cooling, refreshing properties of citrus, found in Orange Cream Caramel Flan will be welcome. If you’re looking to liven-up a summertime menu, a Caribbean-style meal can do that, with color, flavor and as much fire as you dare.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food columnist with experience and interests in the culinary arts. She has lived and worked in the Lowcountry since 1985 and may be reached or 843-683-0375.

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch strips

1 medium orange bell pepper, cut into ½-inch strips

1 medium onion, sliced

1 teaspoon Grace brand Browning Sauce, optional*

Jerk Marinade (recipe follows)




1 small jalapeño pepper, chopped fine*

2 cloves garlic

2 scallion bulbs, chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

⅛ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup lime juice

1 tablespoon vinegar

¼ cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar


Using a mortar and pestle (or a food processor), mash jalapeño pepper, garlic, scallion and oil into a paste. Place paste in a mixing bowl. Add salt, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, cloves and nutmeg, stirring to blend. Whisk in lime juice, vinegar, honey and sugar. Place chicken in large zip-lock bag. Pour marinade mixture over chicken and seal bag. Shake bag a few times to coat chicken. Place bag in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for 3 hours. Remove chicken from refrigerator, draining marinade into a small saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring the marinade to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer until the mixture reduces and becomes thick; do not allow to burn. While the reduction sauce is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in large 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; stir fry 10 to 12 minutes or until no longer pink in center. Add onions and bell pepper; stir fry 2 to 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add some of the reduction sauce to the pan to coat and glaze chicken, cooking until the chicken achieves a nice brown color. (You may also add some Browning Sauce to enhance the color of your chicken.) Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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