at last… a homemade jerk seasoning recipe that works

For more than five years, we have been living in Australia, far away from the comfortingly-stocked shelves of our local Tesco in Brent Cross where the international food choices were staggering. With such a huge population in the area of West Indian descent, there was never any problem buying Orlando’s –and subsequently my – favourite West Indian foods and seasonings.

Ackee and saltfish was delicious, easy and cheap to make for dinner. If we needed more jerk seasoning or pepper sauce (a traditional Barbados favourite), we popped down the road either to Tesco or to any of our local groceries, and picked up a jar of Walkerswood or a bottle of Windmill.

Now we live in Australia, we have to remember to stock up if either one of us goes to London. Happily, our trip to Barbados afforded us the chance to send back some decent quantities of jerk seasoning, pepper sauce and tins of ackee.

But how to become more self-sufficient? A few of our West Indian acquaintances here in Australia make really decent home-made pepper sauce or jerk seasoning, but I have never been able to come close. Perhaps it was the fresh Bajan air, or the amazing assaults on my taste buds every evening at dinner, but upon my return this time I think I have cracked it.

The most important thing to get right is the fresh chillies. Australia-dwellers, this is important: you will not find the chillies you need in Safeway. What we really need are habanero chillies but they are not sold in this country. So you need to go down to the local market or your local Asian grocery and ask for the hottest fresh chillies you can find. I get mine from Bharat Traders here in West Footscray, tiny green ones that look like this (they are on a side plate if that gives you an idea of size). I used about 12 of these for one batch of seasoning (enough to season about 1 kg of meat) and to be honest I could have done with a bit more heat still. Deseed before you use if you wish – I didn’t bother.

The second important ingredient is all-spice. Many people think this is a mixture of spices used in baking, but that is mixed spices. All-spice is the fruit of the Jamaican pimiento tree and is a very specific ingredient. Happily, although you cannot get the pimiento berries themselves here in Australia, we can buy ground all-spice in most big supermarkets. It’s not the same but it does the job.

The third thing is the tool you use. You will need to get this mixture ground down as smooth as possible, so the best results will be obtained from a blender or from a pestle and mortar. I have only used a food processor so far, which chops very finely indeed but it is not enough to make the seasoning paste really sink into the meat.

So, here you go. Give it a try and roast your own jerk chicken for dinner this weekend.

Ingredients (enough to season about 1kg of chicken)
3-4 large scallions or spring onions
6-12 hot chillies
small bunch of fresh thyme
2-3 teaspoons of allspice powder
1-2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg or the freshly-ground equivalent
1-2 teaspoons sugar
juice of half a fresh lime
freshly-ground salt and black pepper

Other people add some ginger, or coriander. I am going to try and add some native Australian herbs and spices, like lemon myrtle or pepperberry, and see how that goes.

De-seed the chillies if you wish. Chop up the scallions and chillies as finely as you can. You can use onion if you are stuck, but I find the onion rather overpowers the balance of flavours too much.
Remove the leaves of the thyme from their woody stems by stripping each stalk backwards. Don’t worry about being too finicky with this.
Throw all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until as smooth as you can get it. If you don’t have a blender, start by chopping everything as small as possible and then use a pestle and mortar to crush the onions, chillies and thyme into as smooth a paste as you can manage. Update: having now used a pestle and mortar, a food processor and a blender, I would have to say the blender gives you by far the best results.

This seasoning will keep in the fridge in a sterilised container for a week or two if you don’t use it all at once. If you add a little white vinegar to the mix at the end of the blend, this will help with longevity.Rub a small amount of the seasoning onto each joint of meat – I use no more than 2-3 teaspoons per chicken joint or breast. Make sure you get into every nook and cranny. Then cover and leave for as long as you can – overnight if possible, but at least an hour if you are in a hurry.

Roast slowly and enjoy the beautiful aromas coming from the kitchen!

Serve with rice and peas: soak 2-3 tablespoonfuls of black beans, black-eyed peas or similar overnight. Alternatively use azuki beans which are easily found in Asian markets, and don’t need soaking. Bring to the boil and cook slowly in plenty of water until cooked. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE WATER. Add your white rice and a dash of salt to the cooked peas in the same water (this makes the rice turn a different colour and adds flavour). Stir occasionally until cooked through, then strain the last of the water away and serve up.

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