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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Sugar and spice – Christmas baking, seasons and memories

Christmas cake ingredientsToday I baked our Christmas cake.  I’m not going to insult your intelligence by claiming it’s my recipe – that credit goes to the great Delia Smith – but it is, in some sense, still a ‘family’ recipe.  It’s the cake my mother makes, and the one I made with my grandmother when I was growing up.  I still make it almost exactly like she did.

The smell of citrus zest, calvados, and freshly grated nutmeg can only mean Christmas isn’t far around the corner. Folding the fruit into the cake mixture, heady scents filling the kitchen, is a mix of excitement about the festive season to come, and remembrance of past Christmases, and those we spent them with.  Every year, when I bake my Christmas cake, I think of Grandma – I remember making this cake with her, in her kitchen, all those years ago.

Cake in tinIn my first year at university, some time in November, I remember going into the big, academic bookshop, and digging out a copy of Delia’s Christmas cookbook.  That year, I made my own cake, and I’ve made one every year since then.

Wrapped and ready for the ovenIt still gets double-wrapped in baking parchment before going into the oven, just like my Grandma taught me.  And even though the fashion these days runs more to smooth white icing, it will still get covered in marzipan and then daubed roughly in a royal icing snow-scene and topped with a marzipan poinsettia, just like my Grandma’s used to.  Though of course I’ll probably only get around to it on Christmas Eve.  Grandma I think would have been better organised!

Cake coolingWe forget too often these days what our food says about us, about where we come from, and the people we’re connected to.  Seasonal foods – big obvious ones like Christmas cakes, as well as more modest ones like the first asparagus of summer – connect us with the turning of the seasons as well as back through our memories to previous years and previous feasts.

I hope you enjoy your festive preparations, and create some new, wonderful memories with people you love!