Hah! You thought I was talking about a presidential candidate, didn't you? Well, this once you were wrong. Today we are talking Jamaican jerk seasoning, one of my new favorite spice blends I use when grilling meats, poultry, and fish.

Sign from Tombstone, Arizona (edited for publication)
I have never been to Jamaica. However, I did watch Cool Runnings, the movie about the Jamaican Bobsled Team that competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics. That counts for something, doesn't it?

Markipedia did actually go to Jamaica and returned loving the food with its complex spice and heat. Back home, he’d wistfully cook from his souvenir cookbook on winter nights. And, really, it didn't take much to sway me to try a new cuisine.

Of course, there are many jerk seasoning mixtures available in stores everywhere. But, that's not for me. Aside from the dreaded G, which is prevalent in jerk seasoning, I just think everyone should make their own spice blends.

Buying them is fine, I guess, but then you are stuck with someone else's taste in seasoning. What if, let's say, you like it HOT! And what if Mr. Jerk Season likes it mild? You end up adding more cayenne or a couple of Scotch bonnets until you are happy with it. Or, what if it is all heat but dull? Now, if you made it yourself in the beginning, you'd have the perfect mixture for you!

This is a good time to note that, when using a dry rub, the longer you marinate, the more the flavors permeate the meat. Especially the salt! Keep this in mind when putting together your mixture; adjust the salt - and the other ingredients - for your personal taste.

And, guess what? If you don't have all the spices, make a substitution or simply leave it out. Remember, each chef, each home cook, has her or his own recipe. Some of the more prevalent flavors that make an iconic jerk seasoning jerky are dried Scotch bonnet chiles, and allspice from the West Indies (a.k.a. the Caribbean), and ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon from the East Indies. The presence of thyme differentiates it from rubs of other traditions, and reminds us of the British influence in Jamaica.

At this point, I want to recognize Penzeys Spices (no, they didn't give me any spices, and they certainly didn't ask me to say this, although I do buy a lot of their spices). Not only do they have amazing spices, they have great social responsibility. They want you - yes, you cooks of America - to think about things. Social issues. Politics. Economics. Kindness. Recently, they put out this bumper sticker, and I hope you will all get out there on November 8 to vote. And vote thoughtfully.

Back to the recipe: don't be a jerk. Make your own spice blends.

~ David

Jerk Pork

4 thin cut pork chops, with or without the bone (4 ounces, 1/4-inch thick)
4 teaspoons jerk seasoning, recipe follows
extra virgin olive oil

Sprinkle each side of the pork chops with 1/2 teaspoon of the jerk seasoning. Rub it in evenly, and place on a plate, cover, and refrigerate for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium high. When fire is ready and marinating time is done, drizzle both sides of each chop with olive oil and brush in.

Grill for 1-2 minutes per side. Serve immediately. It is good “as is,” or you can add a mango or fresh fruit salsa on the side. I served it with grilled mushrooms and peas cooked in rum.

Jerk Seasoning

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon dried shallots (available from Penzeys)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 dried Scotch Bonnet/habanero chile (or 3 dried Thai chiles)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder and process until well-mixed. Store in an airtight container.

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