Jerk Chicken: The Dish You Know, The History You Don't

Jerk chicken, a wildly popular dish in the UK, was conceived in Jamaica and combined native ingredients and seasonings used by the Arawak Indians (from South America). The meat in this dish is cooked for a long time to keep insects away and to preserve it longer. 

The Spanish word Jerk comes from the Peruvian word ‘Charqui’, which means dried strips of meat, which modern-day American and Brits called Jerky. A few years ago, there was a major kerfuffle when Jamie Oliver launched something called “Punch Jerk Rice”, which angered Jamaicans around the world. 

It’s, as Jamaican scholar Carolyn Cooper told The Smithsonian Magazine: “One of the enduring legacies of the fusion of African and Taino cultures in Jamaica”. The Taino were the first to call the Caribbean island Xaymaca, meaning land of wood and water. 

Much like biryani was developed for Mughal armies on the move, Jerk was developed when the Maroons (Free Blacks) allied with indigenous tribes. As acclaimed chef Gariel Ferguson explains: “The Maroons developed alliances with Indigenous inhabitants who taught them to preserve meats with available spices and leaves and developed an underground cooking method to evade their enemies.” 

The preserved meat allowed them to “hunt, prepare, preserve, transport, nourish and sustain while always on the move”. To quote Ferguson again: “Jerk is freedom manifested in food.” 

Be free and recreate this iconic dish.