Hail up, it’s time for a Dantastic take on Jerk Chicken Thighs! Jerk Chicken is a classic Caribbean dish with a deep, and complex history. We used authentic Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning to respect the tradition of Jerk Chicken, and combine that with Dan-O’s Original to create this out of the world flavor and honor the culture and history of Jerk cooking.
Jerk seasoning is a hot topic in the culinary world, with a lot of celebrity chefs and companies throwing their version out there. These celebrity chef versions of the classic seasoning is typically to the dismay of Jamaicans. To put it simply, Jerk isn’t as simple as a seasoning, or specific food, Jerk is an enduring legacy of the fusion of African & Taíno cultures, and the enduring trauma of slavery. The Taíno, an Arawak people who were part of the Caribbean’s Indigenous population, were the first to settle on the island, and the first to call the island Xaymaca. Xaymaca translates roughly as “land of wood and water”. As time marched on, the Taíno people would first came in contact with Europeans when Columbus arrived in 1494, shortly followed by Spanish colonists, 15 years later.
When the Spanish set up shop, the settlement was small, and under-funded in comparison to other Spanish colonies in the region. Still this colony would bring a few things to the island, chief among them was slavery. As time passed, the next major event our in timeline would occur in the mid 17th century. At this time, England and Spain were in the thick of war, which led the British to invade the island. Remember how the Spanish settlement was small and underfunded? Well that led to the Spanish quickly abandoning the island for the more prosperous colonies of Cuba. In this transitory period of power, before England could dig their claws in, the local enslaved population would flee to the mountains. These now freed people became known as the Maroons, which stems from the Spanish word cimarrones which translates to mountaineers.
In the mountains, the Maroons would meet the remaining Taíno people, who called the mountains home by this point. At the time of their first meeting, 90% of the Taíno population had been eradicated. Back outside of the the mountains, the British were finally digging their claws in to the island, and their first major contribution to the island was the transatlantic slave trade. The British’s slave labor, and trade, would lead to the booming sugar industry of the island. But as enslaved people were brought to the island, this just meant more opportunities for them to escape. Over the years, the Maroons would blossom in population as the enslaved would flee from plantations for the mountains.
With the Maroons claiming freedom in the mountain, and the previously discussed settling with the remaining Indigenous population, we began to see the sharing of cultures and traditions. Chief amongst this new found blend of culture was Jerk. Jerk refers to the way in which meat is seasoned, smoked, and grilled. Historically, the seasoning calls for bird peppers, pimento, and pepper elder, but more modern takes include Scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, garlic, ginger, pimento, cinnamon, and thyme.
Together, the Maroons and Taíno would hunt wild boar, and other game on the island. They would then season the meat with pimento, salt, and bird peppers before wrapping it in pepper elder leaves, and cooking it in an underground smokeless pit over green pimento wood positioned on dying embers. These smokeless pits was significant because the Maroons and Taíno had to cook without smoke, lest the smoke give away their location to the British. To this day, many traditionalists believe it’s only Jerk Chicken, or any other meat, if it uses Jerk seasoning and is then slow cooked or grilled over green pimento wood on burning coals. In the end, the Maroons and Taíno's alliances allowed them to share with one another and create a unique culture that is still present on the island to this day. Their methods of survival, that was used to evade their enemies, now has created an enduring legacy of the native population to honor their ancestors with traditional Jerk cooking. To this day many Jamaican natives consider Jerk to not just but food, but to represent freedom.