I know nothing at all about Jamaican cuisine. I think they have some kind of meat pie. There is a dish of savory fruit that has a funny name. There was a Jamaican restaurant four blocks from my house in Los Angeles that was one of the shiftiest places I have seen in my life. In the year that we lived there, I think I saw it open maybe half a dozen times, and when it was open, the diners looked like food was the last thing on their minds.
When Nancy at Buncha Jerks asked if they could send me a sample of their seasoning, I wanted to tell her: look, I’ve eaten jerk once in my life. I really like Appleton Rum. That is what kind of culinary commitment you are getting from me. But my kind of moron is perhaps the best kind: I am willing to try things, and I don’t have anything else to compare it to.
Immediately I decided not to follow instructions. I had almost exactly a pound of chicken thighs, which at Buncha Jerks’ advice would require 1.5 teaspoons of their seasoning. Their sample packet had about 3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon). I licked the end of my pinkie finger and dipped it into the spice; half of the dose just didn’t seem like enough. What I tasted was a little warm, but not spicy. I dumped the whole packet in and left it all for 24 hours to think about what it had done.
The next day I asked Mike the Viking what Jamaicans eat with jerk and he answered something about Vikings tasting only the blood of their enemies, so I made some kind of scallion and cilantro rice thing that I made up. There was also coconut milk involved. Do Jamaicans eat coconut? Who doesn’t?
I broiled the chicken in my oven because I don’t have a steel drum spit down by the beach.
Verdict? It is a very tasty seasoning blend. Is it authentic? I have no idea, and it sort of doesn’t matter to me. More on that in a moment. For me, the seasoning was very allspice and cinnamon-forward, mostly flavors I associate with pastry and sweets, but with a lightly savory and only very mildly warm finish from the thyme and Scotch Bonnet pepper. I detected no sugar or salt, but my tastebuds are the sugar and salt equivalent of someone who does like $500 of heroin a day. I need a lot to maintain.
What disappointed me was the heat level. The only other time I had jerk was many years ago, and it basically ripped my face off. I did not enjoy it. However, I have turned into a chili head in the last year or two, much to everyone’s¹ surprise. But the chicken I prepared was barely warmer than if we had used a lot of black pepper, and certainly many times more mild than any of the quotidian hot sauces we have in the house. So was this a normal amount of heat? I truly don’t think so, and at their website I notice there are three levels of heat. Perhaps they sent me the mild one? I’ll let Nancy get back to me on that one.
I appreciate what Eric and Nancy are doing with Buncha Jerks. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and personal risk to try and address faults in the culinary industry, and I applaud that. I can only tell them I am sorry I am such a tremendous jerk noob (a jerk jerk, if you will) (I know you won’t) and that when they initially contacted me a month ago, they were trying to raise money through Kickstarter to really get things going, but failed to meet their goal. This is really too bad. They seem like nice people with an earnest product. That I wish was spicier.
As far as authenticity goes, can I volunteer that I am sort of over it? I’ve been cooking a lot of Japanese food at home lately, and really embracing the concept of yōshoku. There are dishes widely acknowledged yōshoku, but I like the general philosophy of it more: Western foods viewed through Japanese eyes. I really, truly enjoyed Ochikeron’s “Chicken Tikka Masala” (made with thighs instead of breast meat, of course) and recently read about and made my first batch of Spaghetti Naporitan (uh, needs work). These foods are deeply, deeply far from authentic. But they are delicious and have value and merit. I feel the same about Buncha Jerks: I suspect that everything about how I made my jerk chicken was culturally as far from Jamaica as possible, but it was delicious, and I am not Jamaican. I think that valuing ingredient quality is the only true aspiration in cuisine, and even that is taken with a grain of salt. I mean, have you had Bugles lately?! My friend just brought some into work and holy shit! They are fried in coconut oil!
I guess what I am trying to say is that I love it when people try to fill a niche. Thanks, Buncha Jerks, both for your spices, and for having a name that makes me feel like I am speaking like a sarcastic asswipe.
¹ Especially my colon.