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There is so much variation in jerk recipes that it would be nice to have some clarity on the do's and don'ts. I like Jerk chicken, but my attempts to make it have generally not worked as well as the versions I have purchased.

I normally do something like:

  • Spring onions
  • Garlic
  • Allspice
  • Some fresh thyme
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cayan (or scotch bonnet pepper if I can find it)
  • Ginger
  • Vinegar
  • Soy Sauce
  • Orange Juice.

I then marinade, my best results seem to involve cooking in the marinade. However the results are still a little acidic.

  • Am I going down the right route?
  • Am I doing everything in the right order?
  • What are the key ingredients that are needed to produce a good balance and the distinct profile of flavors?
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so are you looking to replicate what you buy in stores, or are you looking for a recipe from a noted authority on Jamaican cuisine? –  justkt Oct 29 '10 at 13:12
1  
I assume from the language of your post that you are combining the list above into a rub, applying the rub, jerking the chicken, then marinading. Typically marinades are applied before a rub (esp. if a rub has salt); also, you haven't mentioned what the marinade is comprised of. Could you edit in what's marinade, what's rub, when you apply both, and how you are preparing the chicken (i.e. grill, oven, frying)? –  mfg May 18 '11 at 13:40

2 Answers 2

Are you beginning the cooking process (after the marinade) with a spice rub and then poking that spice into ("jerking") the meat? This is an obviously key step considering it's how the technique got its name, but I thought I might mention it. A good rub will go the distance, but like posts about buying chili powder and italian seasoning, make your own. Find one you like then build it from scratch. The 'definitiveness' is really in the cooking and the attitude of the fire. (Also, you list allspice, but don't mention if it is fresh ground; definitely make sure to do a fresh pass through the mortar and pestle and buy whole if possible... and you might add some coriander but that's more a complement than a jerk necessity.)

Working within the marinade, I would recommend steering away from the brown sugar a bit and incorporating a fruit juice like orange or any tropical fruit pulp.

For an additional bit of emphasis on thyme: I am not sure how much you are digging into the cayenne/onion flavors, but the more you are the more thyme can also help lift the spirits of the dish and give its smokiness a brilliant contrast. Of note, too much thyme though and you will veer sharply toward cajun, for better or worse.

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IMO, the key to a good jerk is the triple combo of sweethot spiciness, garlic/onion boldness, and that allspice twist. Well, that and cooking technique if you're doing a blackened version, which is common. So, it looks like you have the sweet and hot components covered. If it's too sweet, then maybe increase the spiciness and other aspects. For more robust flavor, I agree with mfg about the thyme. You can also try adding msg. It's a bit hard to answer your question because you're not saying specifically what you feel is missing: what exactly doesn't work well?

The major tip I wanted to contribute, though, is to add sesame seed. You can do this in the marinade, but I even go through the effort to toast and chop them a bit for a rub as well as a secret ingredient. I love that extra nutty robustness, and maybe with some paprika or new mexico chili powder. It can be overdone, but you do have some leeway - maybe around 1 teaspoon of chopped seeds per 1/4 cup of marinade, or per chicken breast if using in a rub.

Something else that goes good with chicken and compliments allspice is tarragon; just throw in a couple pinches so it doesn't take a lead role, though.

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