Cooking in the Islands
In Jamaica, smoky jerk huts alongside the road, with seats around a circular counter, serve the famous Jamaican jerk barbecue. Originally whole pigs were deboned, splayed out and cooked on grills made of pimento sticks over pits about a foot and a half above the fire. Now half-cut steel drums are frequently used.
But what remains the same is the wood fire, smoldering green allspice (pimento) branches, the same plant that flowers into allspice itself, so-called for the hint of many spices in its flavor. And the slow-smoke cooking, an age-old Caribbean practice used to cure meat, gives barbecue and buccaneer alike their names (see Jerk).
More than the cooking method, jerk is famous for its fiery hot seasoning, centered around the Scotch bonnet chile pepper, considered the hottest pepper in the world, contributing its distinctive, apricot-like aroma and fruit pulp.
The allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper contribute the spice base. Thyme and scallions are added along with the central ingredient, the Scotch bonnet pepper.
Packaged jerk seasoning or part or all fresh ingredients may be used. If making this fresh, additional jerk seasoning can be made for later use.
To create a paste, as a combination marinade and rub, add cooking oil, red wine vinegar and soy sauce. Some add light brown sugar or dark rum. This approach uses more liquid for a longer marinade and shorter cooking times than the 4 hours with the drier rub.
Marinade by rubbing the paste on the portions (oil first if desired) 4 hours earlier in the day if possible.
Pork, Chicken, You Name It!
Use pork ribs (about a pound to a person) or pork tenderloin (1/2 lb. a person) or chicken (a quarter or half a person), or chicken thighs, wings, drumsticks, breasts, possibly boneless and even skinless, hamburger or steaks--it's all good!
Consider the time until the meal is going to be served, allowing conversation time with drinks and appetizers, and finish the portions hot off the grill.
"Butterfly" the pork tenderloins by making a radial cut and spread out to 1" thick sheets. Poke shallow holes in the meat and rub in the jerk seasoning paste to marinate. This method is not only an excellent part of the pig, but splays the pork out like the real thing.
Smoke and Grill
Fire up the grill. Determine and create high, low and indirect heat areas of the grill. Spread out charcoal in double, single and "none" layers.
Smoke the grill by putting wood chips on the charcoal or a pan of chips on the gas grill. Pimento or torch wood is preferred.
Have a glass of water handy. Dip your hand in the water, and fling excess water to douse dripping oil-fire flareups.
Pork. Brown the pork tenderloins 8-10 minutes on each side. A drip pan can be put directly under the meat to catch the dripping as the basis of a sauce or gravy for a side dish. If so, allow more cooking time.
Chicken. For chicken, reduce the portion sizes to single pieces, such as thighs, or even cut each of these in half. Brown the skin on one side on a high grill heat area. Cook on a low heat for 5-8 minutes. Then slow smoke for about 45-60 minutes until the juices run clear or the wing bone can be turned easily.
Prep Method: Boil & Simmer
An alternative method is to pre-cook by bringing to a boil and then simmer pork ribs (30 minutes) and chicken (30 minutes or until tender) with the usual suspects like onion, celery, bay leaves, etc. until tender (use/save the cooking water for stock/broth or cook the beans/rice at the same time). Finish on the grill.
Serve Grilled Whelk in a Butter Sauce as an appetizer along with tannia chips (or a Jamacian fried cornbread called Festival) and Jamaican Red Stripe beer and ting grapefruit soda.
Hot off the grill, serve the Jerk Barbecue main dish accompanied by Char-Roasted Breadfruit and Grilled Garlic Cassava Bread.
Desert is a frozen pina colada at a bar later in the evening.
Coordinating this dinner is easy. Marinade the jerk barbecue earlier in the day. Fire the grill about an hour before dinner time when the jerk barbecue is served. Put the breadfruit, chicken and ribs on the grill right away. Prep the whelk appetiser and grilled garlic.
About 1/2 hour before the jerk barbecue is served, put the garlic on the grill.
When guests arrive, serve drinks and chips. Then put on the whelk appetiser and cook in front of guests. Serve when ready.
About 10 minutes before dinner service, put pork tenderloins on grill, if any. Finish up the breadfruit and keep warm on top of grill. Then finish garlic and place bread on grill.
Char-Roasted Baked or Mashed Breadfruit
For a smoky flavor, bury a breadfruit (3-4 lb.) in the charcoal embers (or on a hot gas grill) for up to a hour until charred and soft (see one recipe). Serve in wedges with oil or butter, salt and pepper (drawing by Dee Carstarphen from Maverick Sea Fare).
The bland taste provides a nice balance for the fiery jerk.
Or lop off the top, scoop out the insides, mix up like mashed potatoes with butter, coconut cream and so on, stuff back in the its casing, wrap in foil, place on the low-heat part of the grill and serve family style.
Undercook an extra breadfruit for use as hash browns in the morning. Simply grate and brown in a skillet with a little cooking oil or butter. Salt and pepper to taste.
See a "breadfruit fritter" in the French croquette style.
Grilled Whelk in Garlic Butter Sauce
Also, if the snorkelers or shell collectors have been successful finding whelk, we can grill these for an appetizer.
Grill whelk topside up in a wire rack. Pick the whelk out of its shell and dip in the garlic butter sauce. To make the butter sauce, saut´┐Ż garlic and chives with the butter until translucent, adding the jerk seasoning if desired.
Traditionally, the whelk are steamed in sea water. Dee Carstarphen suggests steaming in a dry white wine with chopped shallots and parsley.
The traditional Caribbean flat and fry breads constitute "designer" breads for the modern grill, with their quick cooking times on a griddle, much like pancakes.
None is better than the cassava bread, called Pain de Kassav by the French-speaking Haitians.
Grate the peeled tubers (4 pounds) of sweet cassava on a finest setting of a grater or food processor. Squeeze the cassava flour through a cheesecloth to remove excess moisture.
Form into thin cakes and fry on a hot griddle until brown on both sides. Note that the non-sweet variety of cassava is poisonous and must be cooked throughly to eliminate the poison.
See Cassava Bread. Also, here's a chef's recipe for fish with cassava breading.
Use the grill instead of an oven to roast the garlic. If cassava bread (pain de kassav) is not available, substitute some other tropical bread.
Cut garlic bulbs (heads) in half crosswise with cloves intact. Place each half on a piece of foil. Spread oil or butter on top. Sprinkle on the chives. Wrap up in foil (heavy duty or double regular). Grill for 25-35 minutes.
Place foil on flat surface. Open foil forming a small container shape. Squeeze garlic cloves out into foil container. Mash garlic with a fork and mix into oil or butter. Spread on cassava bread (pain de kassav). Grill bread oiled-side down until toasted. If you have some sofrito, substitute sofrito grilled bread, if desired.
A garlic sauce can be created by adding some wine vinegar and coconut cream.
Consider undercooking a couple of extra meat or chicken portions (use these to test doneness), then refrigerate in zip-lock baggies with some of the jerk marinade to use later as this appetizer-- Dutch West Indian Sat´┐Ż, Boka Duski, of Indonesian origin.
Normally, the marinade for this dish uses soy sauce, molasses, lime juice, ginger, chile paste (use hot pepper sauce), cumin and turmeric (you can use curry powder for these last two).
Cut up the leftovers into strips, stick on skewers and finish quickly on the grill. Serve with a honey-based, spicy peanut sauce. This dish comes from Barbecue Bible by Stephen Raichlen (see interview). This is a great book with barbecue recipes from around the world.
The modern boat grill is truly a gift!
Being out of the cabin means that the problem of overheating the cabin caused by ovens is non-existent.
Boat grills always have a lid to protect against the elements. The danger of blowing the lid off is avoided by the simple precaution of not turning on the gas if the lid is on.
Remember ladies, put that grill in front of him, along with some exotic tropical foods and the cooking is his job!