no eggs were harmed

Despite a fondness for jerk, Jamaica’s true national dish – the food expats crave to a degree so obsessive that’s it’s canned and shipped around the globe – is something called ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a fruit which when ripe splays open in an act of self-immolation to reveal a shiny black seed the size of an olive. Only then is the flesh fit for consumption and still it first needs to be boiled. Once cooked it has the deceptive texture and appearance of firm scrambled eggs, which might be one reason why the dish is a popular staple at both breakfast and brunch. Another is the fact that salt fish is the Caribbean’s answer to smoked salmon, and here it’s sauteed with sweet red peppers, onions, a healthy amount of allspice and the boiled ackee. Like a good plate of hash it satisfies the palate’s craving for savory and sweet, while the starchy ackee functions like potato, soaking up the residual cooking flavors while pleasantly tricking the eye.

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jerk & juice

Jerk is Jamaica’s claim to culinary fame. A fiery spice blend of allspice, cloves, garlic, and Scotch bonnet peppers, jerk spice, as it’s commonly called, is dry-rubbed into various meats before smoking over a slow-burning mix of hardwood and charcoal. Jamaicans boast of being able to jerk anything – yes, the ubiquity of jerk means it can function as both noun and verb – from pork and tofu to shellfish and sausage, each augmented in its own particular way by a healthy rub of jerk. Yet for me, nothing quite measures up to how the spice permeates - and in the process tenderizes – the meat of a chicken. The capsicum in the pepper breaks down the muscle fibers, turning even the toughest old bird into something sublime and juicy – with a satisfying spice kick, too.  Makeshift jerk shacks are found all over the country, but along an empty stretch of road between Ocho Rios and Port Antonio I came upon Buccaneers Jerk & Juice, a substantially less provisional establishment with both a garden and bar. Half a succulent chicken with a side of festival, lightly sweetened fried dumplings that are tailor-made for mopping up the addictive mix of drippings and hot sauce which puddles on the plate, set me back all of eight bucks. That’s what I call finger-lickin’ good.

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