I was recently invited by the Jamaica Tourist Board, along with select other bloggers and press, to attend a culinary tour and experience the tastes of Jamaica. Awesome right? Unfortunately, due to a full-time job, I was unable to make it work.
So instead, a close friend of mine went in my place. As the editor of Cocktail Enthusiast and booze aficionado, Kevin was the perfect candidate for Jamaican rum tastings. But in addition to his expertise of cocktails and spirits, Kevin has a refined pallet and appreciates good eats. A perfect fit for the tour!
Lucky for us, Kevin saved a special post exclusively for Cooking with Coley. I’ll let him take it from here…
Before my recent trip to Jamaica, I knew very little about the cuisine. My knowledge started and ended with jerk chicken and rum, so I was anxious to learn more about the country’s food. Naturally, my gluttony assisted me well, as I managed to cram about three weeks’ worth of eating into five days.
Some culinary highlights –
There’s a reason it’s popular. This delicious style of cooking refers to the spice rub that’s applied to chicken, pork and seafood. The jerk seasonings are principally allspice and Scotch Bonnet peppers (more on these guys below), but can also include thyme, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and more. The result is intensely flavored food with a hearty kick. I sampled jerk dishes at several restaurants throughout Jamaica, but found the local favorite, Scotchies, to be the best. In the below photo, A Scotchies’ employee reveals the jerk chicken slow cooking over a pit fire.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
This native pepper is a ubiquitous flavoring agent in Jamaica, finding its way into jerk seasoning rubs, soups and many sauces. To give
you an idea of the heat using the industry standard Scoville units, Scotch Bonnet peppers have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 units. The jalapeño, for comparison sake, has a heat rating of around 2,500 to 8,000 units. Remember the fiery heat that a jalapeno’s seeds can give off, then imagine that heat intensified about 50 times. Therein lies the appeal of the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It’s extremely hot, but when used in moderation, it’s a delicious topping to jerk chicken or rice and peas, and it’s a great flavor enhancer for soups.
Speaking of soups, locals noted that Scotch Bonnet peppers are dropped whole into soups during cooking. But they’re always fished out before the soup comes to a boil, as boiling soup can cause the pepper to burst. A single burst pepper can ruin an entire vat of soup, rendering it too hot to eat.
Ackee and Saltfish
This breakfast staple is the national dish of Jamaica, and it quickly became a favorite morning treat, equally valuable for curing hangovers and fueling long travel days. Ackee resembles scrambled eggs, but it’s actually a West African fruit brought over to Jamaica in the 1700s. To prepare the dish, ackee is boiled and then sautéed with salted cod, tomatoes, onions and spices.
This new-to-me fruit grows in tropical climates like the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Eaten raw, it’s sour and slightly crunchy, like a mixture between a plum and a green apple. Locals often sprinkle the raw fruit with salt, which creates a fun play between sour and salty. The fruit can also be cooked down into jams, relishes and sauces, or stewed with water and sugar to create an applesauce-like treat. The June plum was also featured in a popular, refreshing Jamaican drink of June plum juice sweetened with sugar and spiced up with a hint of ginger.
Thanks Kevin, for doing the heavy lifting and taking one for the team by going to Jamaica. 😉 Luckily, I’m off to explore the region myself in two days to celebrate a close friend’s wedding on 11.11.11. Looking forward to trying those scotch bonnet peppers, and finding out for myself if cod for breakfast is really a good idea.
Kevin Gray is a Dallas-based journalist and cocktail enthusiast who’s work has also appeared in AOL, The Huffington Post, Gear Patrol, USAToday.com and Where Magazine. Check out Cocktail Enthusiast and follow Kevin’s journey through new spirit tastings and classic cocktail reviews.