Food + Drinks

International Eats: Jerk Chicken

Jerk is one of the most recognisable and well known dishes that hails from the Caribbean. Learn its history, cooking tips, and where you can score delicious Jerk in Toronto.

Its unmistakable aroma and signature spice makes jerk one of the most easily recognisable and well known dishes that hails from the Caribbean. Despite its popularity, many often mistake “jerk” as a way that any meat, whether it be chicken, beef, pork, goat, or fish, and even fruits and vegetables, is seasoned and cooked.

Jerk seasoning has slight variations in its ingredients, but always includes pimento (more commonly known as allspice) and Scotch Bonnet peppers (often mistaken for habaneros), which gives the seasoning the heat it’s so well known for.

Traditionally, jerk is served with rice n’ peas and coleslaw, and are viewed as equally important components of the dish.

Hometown Hero: In Jamaica, jerking is a centuries-old method of preserving meat, especially wild boar, an animal that was once abundant in the hills of this Caribbean isle. Historians believe that the history of jerk can be traced back to the Carib and Arawak Indians who inhabited the Caribbean islands before the arrival of Spanish explorers in the fifteenth century. They slow-cooked their meat with citrus and spices in order to preserve it.  Most Jamaicans now conclude that the technique was perfected by the Maroons, former slaves brought to Jamaica from West Africa, where they had used a process of cooking and preserving meat by heavily seasoning it with peppers and slow cooking over smoke.

How it’s made: Here is a typical Jamaican jerk rub that can be used on any meat or fish. You may improvise by adding ginger, bay leaves, and coriander.

3 teaspoons ground Jamaican allspice
6 to 8 Scotch bonnet peppers (or substitute habaneros), seeds and stems removed, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients together to make a paste. Store the paste in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Let your meat sit in the rub for as long as you’d like, but most chefs agree that marinating the meat from 6 – 12 hours is optimal. Today most jerk is baked in a gas oven which helps drain oils and fat from the meat.

T.O Hook Up:

Mona's rotijerkchicken
Mona’s Roti Jerk Chicken

It’s widely debated by Torontonians on where to find some of the best jerk in the city.

Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods has been a staple in the midtown neighbourhood of St. Clair at Vaughn Rd. for years. They’re well known for the generous portion sizes and stellar oxtail. And though we won’t ignore the fact that this late night eatery has engraved its place in the list of Toronto’s best Caribbean restaurants, it seems a new power is emerging.

Mona’s Roti Caribbean Food, at 4810 Sheppard Ave. turned heads when they snagged the top spot in Post City Magazine’s search for the best jerk chicken in T.O.

In the Post’s taste test, renowned Toronto Chef Grant Van Gameren sampled jerk chicken from around the city and awarded Mona’s with the number one spot. He was fairly tough on the contenders, and this is what he had to say about Mona’s jerk:“This is hitting every flavour note that I’d like,” Van Gameren noted.  Although he’d prefer a touch more heat, this pick is deemed the most authentic.  “You get all those traditional flavours – this is definitely a good jerk!”