My introduction to Jamaica’s national dish was when I used to live in New York during the early 60’s. I will tell you this much, it hurts, and is certainly not for the faint hearted. And to say that it hurts is an understatement. Smoke stings your eyes and scotch bonnet chilies scorch the gullet. My first taste of jerk chicken was at the home of a young Jamaican lady by the name of, Blessing Gooding who lived in Brooklyn. I had never experienced anything quite like it and after making it though a first helping, I wiped my brow and promptly ordered for seconds.
Jerk is Jamaican barbeque, and like its North American counterpart, jerk is simultaneously a dish while at the same time being a cooking method as well as a way of life. Jerk can be seen of the beaten path down to earth roadside eateries, not to mention high end restaurants in Jamaica. The most basic way to make jerk with the meat usually being pork or chicken, is to wash them with lime juice or vinegar and then marinade them in a generous dose of scotch bonnet chilies with a bevy of other spices and then smoke cooked over smoldering hardwood.
Some people cook jerk on a barbecue grill, others in a steel drum or over a pit. Regarding the seasoning, as the jerk marinade is called, no doubt there are a myriad of different variations and formula as there are individual cooks in Jamaica and the world over. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it was only a matter of time before newfangled creations inspired by jerk would come on the market. Don’t be surprised if you come across jerk snapper, jerk prawns, jerk lobster or even jerk pasta!
Historically, jerk has its origins from the Maroons who were runaway slaves who settled in the St Thomas highlands to be found in eastern Jamaica during the late 17th century. In order for them to preserve meats while on the run from the British soldiers, they rubbed wild boar with a fiery paste of salt, spices and scotch bonnet chilies which would then be smoked over smoldering embers.
As a matter of fact, the preparation probably dates back to the regions first inhabitants who were the Arawak Indians. Bear in mind that all the ingredients (spices and herbs) that are used in the preparation of jerk have existed on the island since time immemorial. Did you know that the very term ‘barbecue’ appears to have derived its origin from an Arawak word viz. a grill made of green branches called barbacoa.
A couple of months ago while driving in Najera we saw a sign on the main drag pointing out the roadside BBQ KING Maestro which specializes in offering jerk chicken that is grilled on the site. The idea of having a take away joint on the roadside is a great cachet, and when you think about it is no different than the hot food vendors (mainly doing grilled chicken) who are to be found outside Mengo market every day. I imagine that startup costs would be a fraction of what one would be expected to lay out for a properly built eatery in town. The rent has to be miniscule with the running costs being relatively less burdensome than with the conventional set up.
The chickens are cooked half way and then finished when an order is made. This seems practical and ensures that one is served chicken that is reasonably ‘freshly grilled’ while at the same time well barbecued and not overly dry. In terms of taste, we were disappointed that this was not real jerk chicken and certainly no way near in heat when it came to the chilies or what we might call the scotch bonnet factor.
The sauce was nothing to write home about and all in all, truth be told BBQ King Maestro serves great barbecue chicken but nothing anywhere near authentic jerk chicken. In mitigation, Ugandans unlike our West African brethren do not like highly spiced and seasoned food and any attempt on the part to cook authentic jerk chicken would spell disaster for the owners of BBQ King. Why then insist on touting jerk chicken? It beats me entirely but as I said, if you are looking for good barbeque chicken then look no further.
If you go…
The place: BBQ King Maestro
Address: Najera 1 adjacent to Log in
Smoke-Free Zone: Not applicable
Recommended items: Jerk chicken though the word is truly a misnomer
Ambience: Room for improvement
Open: Daily from midday till 19
Menu: Jerk chicken served with fried Irish potatoes
The Crowd: People who are driving along the Najera road as well as many repeat customers The Bar: Soda
The damage: A quarter piece of chicken shs 7’000/- while a half piece is shs 13’000 and a whole chicken is shs 26’000. Fried Irish potatoes are extra.
Sound level: Good
Rating: OK/so so
Parking: Available and very secure
If you go: Every day from midday until late. They do strictly takeaway
RATINGS: Not to be missed, worth a visit, OK/so so, don’t waste your time.