Curried goat is king at Jamaica Jerk

August 3, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Ackee and saltfish is the national dish, while jerk chicken remains popular with fans of spicy food, but there's another popular dish Jamaicans will be eating this weekend.

If you asked a Chicagoan about Jamaican food, they'd probably send you to a handful of jerk chicken joints. But if you asked a Jamaican ex-pat what they really wanted to eat for a special occasion, it's just as likely to be curried goat. We found one couple in Rogers Park, where they have the sacred dish on their menu all the time.

Paulette Waite does everything the way she learned as a child back in Jamaica. Her recipes aren't fancy; they're decidedly old fashioned. So even though chicken gets most of the attention at her Jamaica Jerk restaurant in Rogers Park, she insists on also offering one of her country's most popular dishes: curried goat.

"Goat is extremely important in the sense that if you're having a party, anything in a big group, weddings...if you don't have goat, it's not accepted," Waite said.

She begins with a simple marinade. Chopped white onions and salt are combined with a few tablespoons of curry powder, plus ground turmeric for color. Then Jamaica's favorite spice -- allspice, also known as pimento -- is added, and Waite combines everything by hand. Once that dry spice blend is combined, she rubs it into goat that she has deboned.

Then in a blender, she combines fresh garlic with fiery scotch bonnet peppers, which make jalapenos look almost wimpy. She blends those two ingredients well, then pours it onto that spice-rubbed goat, and once again, thoroughly rubs the marinade into every possible crevice.

After several hours, the goat is then placed into a giant pot, along with a homemade goat stock she made from those bones. The curried goat cooks slowly, until it bubbles and fills the kitchen with the aromas from back home. Waite also cooks some cubed potatoes in a bit of turmeric, then adds them to the curried goat just before plating.

At the table, you could pair that spicy entree with a refreshing sorrel drink and maybe a simple snack, like a beef patty.

"Growing up, that's what every schoolkid had for lunch," she said.

But they also most likely had goat, and with the exception of the curry powder, the seasonings and spices used are remarkably similar to that other popular Jamaican chicken dish with the funny name.

"It's almost the same, in terms of all the different spices and herbs that we use. We typically use them for all of our meats and fish," said Waite.

Now, while many of the restaurants in that block around the Howard Red Line station seem to be take-out only, Jamaica Jerk actually has a very nice dining room, in which you can sample the goat, jerk chicken or beef patties. If you want to try ackee and saltfish, you'll have to call them ahead of time to see what they can do for you.

Jamaica Jerk
1631 W Howard St

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