Jerk Seasoning – perfect for BBQ season, when weather permits?

Summer is here – so it’s got to be time to break out the BBQ!  Never mind the weather – here in the Midlands we’re in the middle of one of the wettest droughts anyone can remember, it’s rained continuously for several weeks now.  What better to give you a taste of the Caribbean sun – even if the local one isn’t co-operating! –  than home-made jerk pork or chicken kebabs cooked over a charcoal grill, served with a cold beer or a rum cocktail?

Jerk pork kebabs with pineapple, onion and pepper

[Please excuse the mix of weights & measures in this recipe – I created it more or less by eye trying to match a store-bought one.  Mine’s better.]

Making this dry jerk seasoning is really easy if you have a spice grinder.  If you don’t, you could either try using a pestle and mortar (though this may take you a very long time!), or you may be able to make something comparable using all pre-ground spices, though you’ll have to experiment a bit with the quantities and the texture won’t be so nice.  I don’t think you can buy ground bay leaves though, so I’ll leave that as an initiative test!

To make the dry jerk seasoning, take:

  • Whole spices for jerk seasoning15g whole allspice berries
  • 6g whole black peppercorns
  • 6g sea salt – I used salt that I’d smoked over alder and maple wood, for that bit of extra smokey BBQ flavour.  Plain salt is just fine though!
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes – or a couple of whole dried chillies – obviously the heat of the recipe will be affected by your choices here!
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves

Put all of these together in your spice mill and grind to a coarse powder.

Then add:

  • Ground spices for jerk seasoning1 tsp chilli powder (strength to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp soft dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp paprika (smoked, if you have it, and hot or mild to taste)
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Dry jerk seasoningAnd mix well, working out all the little clumps that may have formed around the soft sugar or minced garlic, which are a bit more moist than the rest of the ingredients. Store in a small airtight container – a jam jar is ideal. It will keep well for several months at room temperature.

To use, mix as a marinade with whatever meat you want to jerk at a ratio of 2 tsp dried spice mix, with aprox 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Rub in well with your hands and leave to infuse for a couple of hours in the fridge if possible.

The turmeric is mostly for colour and will dye your fingernails a really attractive shade of nicotine yellow. You might like to consider wearing gloves when rubbing in the marinade, or just leaving the turmeric out of the recipe, if you prefer.

Yesterday, I prepared jerk chicken drumsticks, legs, and wings for the BBQ, and jerk pork kebabs with pineapple, pepper & onion.

Chicken pieces in jerk marinadeThe jerk chicken portions couldn’t be more straightforward.  Either buy a pack of leg pieces from the butcher, or if you’re in the habit of portioning chicken at home, dig a couple of packs of legs & wings out of the freezer. Slash through the skin and into the meat several times on each portion – this helps the cure penetrate and also helps the thicker portions of the chicken cook evenly over the charcoal grill. Then squeeze over the juice of a whole lime, a good glug of olive oil, and several teaspoons of the jerk seasoning – I ended up using about 6 spoonfuls to get a good degree of coating on all the pieces.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge for several hours if possible before cooking, though you can cook immediately and the flavour will still be pretty good!  Cook over a charcoal grill, slowly, so that it cooks through without burning (a little bit of blackening on the outside is traditional, though!).  If you’re in any doubt whether the chicken is completely cooked, take it off the bbq, and place in an oven dish in a 200C oven for 10 – 15 minutes to finish cooking all the way through.  Of course, you can cook these entirely in the oven, if the weather’s not co-operating!

Prepared jerk pork kebabs with pineappleAny pork will do for the kebabs, really – I used half a pork tenderloin I had in the freezer. Cut into strips, and marinade like the chicken, with lime juice, oil and the dry seasoning mix.  Allow these to marinade for several hours if possible.  Prepare fresh pineapple by slicing thickly, removing the skin and cutting into square pieces.  Also slice a couple of onions and sweet peppers into similar sized pieces.  Then, just before cooking,  thread the marinaded pork onto skewers with the chunks of pineapple, onion and sweet pepper.

Kebabs cooking over charcoal

Get some good friends together, and marinade gently in some good drink and good company, while your jerk kebabs cook gently over a charcoal grill, then serve with salad & warmed pitta bread, and your choice of sauce (I quite like sweet chilli with this!).  Yum!  Dig in, and enjoy an early taste of summer!

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Feedback on Country Skills – hyacinths, candles and chickens

I love hearing from my blog readers, especially if you’ve tried out something I’ve written about!

After I wrote my butchery tutorial ‘how to portion a chicken’, blog reader asciiqwerty contacted me to me to let me know how she’d got on following my instructions, and sent me this photo of her finished portioned chicken.

Portioned, skinned and boned out chicken

This time the portions have all been skinned, and the thigh portions have the bones removed – this would make them great for using in a stir-fry or a curry.  She commented particularly on the size of the chicken breasts – which weighed in at about 200g each.  A supermarket pack of two chicken breasts will usually be about 250g in total, so you can see how much more you get for our money.  Well done asciiqwerty, and I hope it was as tasty!

Moving away from food, back at Christmas I made hyacinth bulbs with hydrogel beads, in recycled jam-jars, as gifts for friends and relatives.  I kept one for myself, of course, and thought you might like to see how it all worked out when it came into flower a few weeks ago.

Hyacinth bulb in flower, with hydrogel beads

The smell was amazing, and after this flowerhead died back and I cut it down, the bulb produced a second unexpected bonus flower!  The hyacinth stayed nice and compact and didn’t fall over despite not being secured by anything other than the roots in the jar of beads, which I was very pleased with.

Finally, the recycled chunk candle I made a few weeks back.  I was amazed with this, it turned out so much better than I’d anticipated.

Recycled wax chunk candle

After looking initially as if the melt pool would be a bit pathetic in the centre, it actually burned down very nearly edge-to-edge leaving a thin shell which the candlelight flickered through like stained glass.  I burned it every night for several hours after work, and it lasted a whole fortnight – I’d estimate around 45 hours burn time.

I’d love to hear about any successes (or otherwise!) you might have had trying out country skills – either in the comments, @countryskills on twitter, or by email at countryskillsblog@gmail.com.   Or perhaps there’s something you do that you think I should try – I’m always happy to hear new ideas, so please get in touch!

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A little egg-centricity – all about the chicken and the egg

Nothing beats a really fresh free range egg.  For breakfast, fried or poached, boiled or scrambled, or for lunch in an omelette, a really fresh egg – preferably laid this morning – is head and shoulders above any other egg you’ve ever tasted.  You can see the difference straight away, even before you crack it – the shell may well be a bit grubby, and a slightly funny shape, an unexpected or uneven colour.  When you crack it open, the egg white is firm and ‘sits up’ in the pan, and the yolk is a deep orange, and bigger than you expected – if beaten, the raw egg is a rich dark yellow, rather than off-white.  In your mouth the yolk is velvety and rich, creamy and almost sweet with a luxuriant almost-custard quality and the white is firm but never rubbery – a million miles away from the flaccid anaemic and tasteless output of battery cages and the supermarket supply chain.

Fresh egg

It’s a sad fact that in the supermarket dominated, urban West, most people have probably never tasted a really good, fresh egg.  We think of eggs as being uniform, sized and graded, cheap and frankly, dull.  But they’re a natural product, and they vary – in size, colour and shape – and from the very firmest, freshest example, to the end of their storage life when the egg white is watery and the best of the flavour is gone.

I said nothing beats a very fresh egg, but of course that depends what you’re doing with it. If you want to beat the egg and use it to help with raising – in baking, or a soufflé – or you want hard boiled eggs peeled for a Salade Niçoise, then the very freshest eggs aren’t for you.  The egg white – the albumen – is actually in two parts.  The outer albumen is quite watery, you can see it spread out in the pan in the photo above.  The inner albumen is much more firm in a very fresh egg (but in an egg which has been stored for some time you probably won’t be able to see a distinction between the two).  In a very fresh egg this inner albumen has too much structure and tends to want to hold together, which doesn’t allow the batter to rise properly.  Furthermore, if you hard boil a really fresh egg and then remove the shell, the outer albumen will come away with the shell, which is a waste and makes for a scruffy-looking boiled egg.  Eggs about a week old are best for baking and hard boiling – realistically you won’t get eggs much fresher than this from the supermarket, though.

Egg storage

These are my eggs, and three things are obvious – first the range of shapes and sizes, secondly that they’re in some sort of wire device (it’s called an Egg Skelter, and I wouldn’t be without it) and not in the fridge, and thirdly that, frankly, they’re a bit grubby!

The size variability is something that you have to make adjustments for with ungraded eggs.  My approach is to weigh them and then adjust according to standard size references.  The Lion Egg Scheme people have a size guide here.

Fresh eggs will keep safely at room temperature for 3 weeks (it’s no coincidence that this is the length of time they have to stay ‘fresh’ under a warm hen if being hatched!), but if you do put them in the fridge, then you need to leave them there.  If eggs are removed from refrigeration, moisture condenses on the outside of the shell and can then be drawn through into the inside of the egg by osmosis, potentially pulling pathogens from outside the shell into the egg itself and increasing the risk of food poisoning.  My eggs don’t sit around for anything like three weeks (if I have a glut I know plenty of people who are happy to help me deal with it!) so storage at room temperature is ideal.  Better still, the egg skelter enforces first-in-first-out use, which is trickier with other storage systems.

So you’d think washing the dirt from the outside of the egg would be a good idea, right?  In fact dissolving these contaminants in water, and disrupting the outside surface of the shell, also increase the risk of pathogen entry.  Much better to leave grubby eggs as they are, and rub off any loose dirt and mud from the surface just before use.  Egg washing is not permitted in the production chain for commercial shell eggs in the UK, on a risk assessment basis, though it is common practice in other countries including the US (they tend to wash in a chlorine solution – because bleach is what you want in your eggs!).  This goes some way to explaining the obsession with clean eggs in intensive production systems – and the resulting battery cages (improved, but not yet gone), as ‘dirty’ eggs are downgraded.

I’ve kept hens for two and a half years now.  I wasn’t expecting get as attached to them as I have, they’re fascinating animals.  Funny feathery little dinosaur-descendants they certainly are, they’re inquisitive, social (and not always sociable!) little creatures.  Only when you’ve watched hens scratch around for bugs, enjoy a bit of a flap and a wing stretch, and then settle down into a well-earned and apparently thoroughly indulgent dust bath, can you really start to understand how inhumane intensive cost-led egg production systems are.  This is Gertie, by the way, my ‘top hen’, being a bit confused by her first sight of snow, and wondering what I’m doing with that camera.

Outdoor hen

You may not be able to keep your own poultry, but if only for the sake of your palate (never mind the quality of life of the poor intensive egg-producing bird) it’s worth seeking out the best and freshest outdoor reared eggs you can find – farmers markets and farm shops are a great place to start – or ask around, you may be surprised to find a colleague keeps backyard hens, and if you’re really super nice to them, they may be prepared to share! Then, enjoy your wonderful, freshest eggs, with the best home cured bacon for the most amazing breakfast fry-up you’ve ever tasted.

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