Jamaican jerk chicken -- all about the sauce

August 26, 2009 11:16:31 AM PDT
A South Side restaurant uses a family recipe- straight from Jamaica- to prepare its jerk chicken.Jerk is essentially a cooking method, as well as a spice blend thought to be created by a band of slaves evading British troops in the mountains of Jamaica. They rubbed chicken or pork with a spice blend, then slowly smoked them over coals and branches from the native pimento - or allspice - tree. As any fan of jerk cooking will tell you, it's all pretty much about the sauce.

There are a handful of South Side Jerk joints in Chicago- yet few offer the authentic spicing levels that are common in Jamaica. At Uncle Joe's Jerk Chicken - which has four locations around the South Side - the recipes are straight from the island.

"I always liked to cook back home in Jamaica, my dad was a chef. So he kind of passed the secret on to me as far as the recipe and the jerk sauce," said Joe Neish, owner of Joe's Jamaican Jerk Chicken.

That sauce is obviously key. They start with an extraordinarily large number of potent scotch bonnet peppers and onions, adding vinegar and fresh thyme in a large blender, along with a spice blend that includes allspice, which is indigenous to Jamaica. Once the sauce is well blended, it's poured on top of chicken, and then methodically rubbed and massaged into every possible crevace. The chicken marinates overnight, and then the next day, it's placed onto the grates of a large smoker, which contains wood chips to help season it. After about an hour, the chicken is ready to serve, along with typical sides of red beans and rice with gravy. Neish says extra sauce is available if you really want to increase the heat.

"The sauce comes on the side, the jerk sauce is real hot. So you can actually enjoy eating it and put the sauce on it," Neish said.

Other good options include jerk catfish topped with marinated peppers, served with beans, rice and callalou - a Jamaican green. Oxtails are also smoked and stewed, and the side of mac 'n cheese offers a creamy, rich contrast. They get their beef patties from a Caribbean bakery on the North Side, and Neish says he's just trying to replicate the mood he remembers from growing up on the island.

"You can see the atmosphere is tropical, we have music goin' and it's always, you know, a lot of fun," said Neish.

Joe is about to open his fifth location at 46th and king drive in just a few weeks.

Uncle Joe's Jerk (Dine In & Take Out)
8211 S. Cottage Grove

773-962-9935

8601 S. Stony Island (Take Out Only)
773-221-2438

1461 E. Hyde Pk. Blvd. (Seating & Take Out)
773-241-5550

10210 S. Vincennes Ave. (Take Out Only)
773-779-9966

Opening Soon:

46th & King Dr.


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