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Things with Wings - Jamaica: Feeling the Heat

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks

Jamaica: Feeling the Heat

After I (Chris) graduated from culinary school, I ran fairly quickly through a number of food industry jobs—private chef on a yacht that rarely left harbor, line cook at a resort in Hawaii, sous-chef at a large hotel in Boston....

I learned something from each of them, but none of them fired my imagination. So eventually I decided to do what any sensible young man would do—quit my job and embark on an epic surfing trip through the Caribbean and South and Central America. It was perhaps the best decision of my life, because it was on this trip that my formal training and my love of intensely flavored, casual food came together. About a third of the way through the trip, I was lucky enough to spend a series of languorous afternoons (because surfers are nothing if not languorous when the surf isn’t up) on the northern coast of Jamaica, near Boston Bay. As any aficionado knows, this is the original home of “jerk” cooking, a unique technique originally developed by runaway slaves called maroons. Jerk involves coating meat (most often chicken or pork) with a spice paste featuring the incendiary Scotch bonnet chile pepper, which is among the very hottest in the world but also has a distinctly floral, aromatic flavor. Once the paste is applied, the food is slowly cooked over a smoky fire, usually fueled by pimento wood. The guys who hang out around the pits cooking jerk may be the very definition of laid-back, but the food they produce is anything but—it’s a smoke-infused, aromatic, blisteringly hot treat. I quickly became addicted. Plus, from watching these guys and eating their food, I learned the virtues of spice pastes. Because they include fresh ingredients such as garlic and fresh chiles, these pastes have even more dynamic flavors than the dry spice rubs I had already begun using. And, really, you can’t ask more than that—lazy days in the sun, great food, and a culinary lesson you use for the rest of your life.

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