Jerk Chicken: The History and Recipe from Sisserou’s Caribbean Restaurant

By on September 7, 2017

by Eben Shillingford, owner/chef of Sisserou’s Caribbean Restaurant

Many people have asked me over the years what makes our Jerk Chicken true to Caribbean roots, why is it called “Jerk”, and what makes it so good. So, here it is. First, let’s talk about the history and second we’ll talk about the recipe.

This is Sisserou’s Jerk Chicken Tacos (available at lunch)

The basic history is that a number of cultures collided in Jamaica and the “Jerk” method of preparing meat with a certain combination of spices was born. The indigenous people of Jamaica, the Arawaks, who had settled the island from South America, were enslaved by the Spanish before the invasion of the British around the middle of the 17th Century. But, before that invasion there was a certain word used by the Spanish for the meat spiced and dried by the Jamaican natives. That word was “charqui”, the Peruvian word for dried strips of meat.

These are Sissserou’s Jerk Chicken Wings

Now, when the British invaded, the Spanish ran and sailed in fear, but the African slaves and the remaining Arawaks ran for freedom into the Jamaican mountains they knew well. It was there that they adapted charqui to what we would eventually come to know as Jerk. They hunted mainly wild boar and would use the ancient way they learned from the natives to preserve the meat with salt and spices, and then wrap it in banana leaves and bury in the ground for later consumption.  They could later secretly slow cook the pork over a fire of pimenta (allspice) wood in these underground pits trapping in moisture and leaving a tender piece of meat as a result.

kinda like this

The style of cooking evolved into what is now known as a verb, Jerking. The word has also been thought to come from the act of “jerking” the meat by poking it with holes to help the marinade permeate throughout. And yes, since (as a noun) it originated as a way of identifying spiced dried meat, the term is also where we get our beloved “beef jerky”.

This is Sisserou’s Jerk Chicken Entree (1/2 chicken served with spicy street corn and red beans and rice

In those mountains, both the name and the foundation of the recipe we enjoy today as “Jerk”or “Jerked” meats were solidified.  Although my family’s roots are from the island of Dominica, Jamaican Jerk’s popularity spread throughout the Caribbean and beyond. At Sisserou’s, we stay true to the history with our signature balance of allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, green onions, ginger, garlic, citrus, and soy. Traditionally, jerk chicken or pork can be either dry rubbed or wet marinated. We use the marinating method over a period of 24 to 48 hours for optimum flavor before grilling it to perfection. We love hearing how much you enjoy the final product on your plate and I personally hope to see you at Sisserou’s soon.

If you like Sisserou’s and/or want to know more and get to know the owner/chef more check out this video here.

Sisserou’s Caribbean Restaurant
Archer and Main



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