Tuesday, March 8, 2011

English Roots Reggae and Pimento, please.

This post is a verbose explanation of this video I posted Sunday night.

On the eve of Lent, I (not so) fondly reminisce back to last year's challenge: giving up all meat and animal product for 40-47 days. Eventually, I failed, but I set myself up for failure. Meat is good, and so omnipresent in our culture (especially Southern culture). I'm not sure if I gained respect or concern for vegans during that odyssey. Let's just say I'm glad it's long-since over.

This year, I will sacrifice no such thing. Rather, with March's thaw in full swing below the Mason-Dixon, my primal instinct to place hunks of beast over crackling open flame has stirred. And, as one is drawn outside by coming Spring's pleasant and sunny disposition, I desire festive sounds pumping from the porch speakers: Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley...

...if by cosmic serendipity, this season's first masterpiece needed to be Jerk Pork Shoulder. Now, to the uninitiated (technically, myself included, as I've never been to Jamaica), "jerk" refers to a spice rub or marinade based primarily on two elements: the allspice berry (called "pimento" in Jamaica) and the tongue-scorching Scotch bonnet pepper. The term "jerk" has debatable origins: some say it comes from the Spanish term "charqui" (used to describe dried meat). Other sources claim a term derived from "jerking" the meat around on the grill. Frankly, with all due respect to historical accuracy, I really don't give one tenth of a damn about it. What's important is that jerk is totally delicious. The combination of aromatic allspice (along with tons of other spices and flavors; not to uncommon for foods originating on the trade routes of the Caribbean), hellacious and heavenly burn from the Scotch bonnets, and salty, succulent smoked meat is something that speaks to me. Seductively. And feeds me smoked meats. And gets me a beer.

Indeed, jerk pork is like the wife I never had. And when my current wife reads this, it will not help my case with her.

For my inspiration, I turned to the consummate Jamaican- Steven Raichlen...

...okay, well at least the guy sure does know his way around a grill.

Jamaican Jerk Pork Shoulder
recipe adapted from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades

1 Pork Shoulder, about 8 lbs. (either boneless or bone removed, cap fat trimmed)
8 Scotch Bonnet Peppers (seeded if you like mild, wimpy stuff)
1 Medium Onion, chopped
2 Bunches Scallions, chopped, including white part
1/2 cup Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, chopped
1/4 cup Kosher or Sea Salt
1 tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 tbsp Dried Allspice Berries, toasted and ground
1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Grated Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
1/4 cup Fresh Lime Juice
1/4 cup Packed Dark Brown Sugar
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
1/4 cup Water (if needed)

Pretty simple: combine everything but the pork shoulder in a blender (I had to do two batches), and blend until it's an unappealing-looking liquidy goop. Reserve.

If your pork shoulder has been boned [Beavis & Butt-head laughter], it should fold open and be almost a large, flat rectangle. Start cutting slices- not all the way through the meat- on one side, then flip and make similar cuts where you did not on the other side. The idea is two-fold: flattening out the meat (like an accordion) will not only help decrease the cooking time, but it will also increase the surface area in contact with the jerky marinade goodness. Don't worry about the intramuscular fat... if you smoke it right, that stuff will rend away. This is something I've done before, and I felt affirmed when Raichlen mentioned it in another one of his books, Planet Barbecue.

Put the meat and marinade in a huge zip bag or non-reactive tray. Make sure all the meat is in contact with marinade, and let all that mess get busy in the fridge overnight.

The next day, start soaking a couple handfuls of any hardwood chips (I like oak, hickory, or apple) with a handful of allspice berries in water for 1 hour before smoking begins. Set up your grill or smoker. I use a 22" Weber kettle with a drip pan in the middle (filled with some water) and two piles of about 20-25 coals to each side. The meat will sit over the pan, not directly over any coals.

Once the coals are glowing and no longer have leaping flames that burn your tender knuckles, drop a handful of chips n' berries on each mound. You should have a good bit of smoke, and the internal temp of the grill should be around 250-300˚ (a little high by traditional barbecue standards, but we're after a nice crusty exterior here).

Have a knife handy. STAB ANYONE IN THE THIGH WHO TRIES TO OPEN THE LID OF THE GRILL TO "PEEK"*. After about 2 hours, you may need to add a couple coals and some smoke if the temp starts to drop. This is the only acceptable time to open the lid. After about 3, maybe 4 hours, you should have meat with an internal temp of 190˚, and it should pull apart with a fork. You, my friend, are now in flavor country.

If you MUST have wine with this dish, I can't think of anything better than rosé. The wines of Tavel are particularly delicious. And quite frankly, if you made yours pretty spicy, a little sweetness from a White Zinfandel will work pretty well. I like red Zin with pork BBQ, but this is a different animal. Sweetness tempers spicy. Got a problem with a self-admitted wine snob recommending white Zin? As my mom always said: tough toenails.

Honestly, though, this is a meat meant for cold beer. I suppose Red Stripe would be the easiest Jamaican beer to find. However, if you want to seek out the slightly-more obscure, see if you can find Dragon Stout (same producer as Red Stripe, though).

*meant in jest only. This blog and it's authors are not responsible for any subsequent stabbed legs. But seriously, opening that lid really messes with the barbecue, man.

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