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THE IDIOT’S GUIDE: Jamaican Cuisine

What comes to mind when one thinks of Jamaican cuisine? Is it the jerk meat fresh off the bar-b-q pit? Perhaps it is the colorful array of tropical fruits? Or does one’s mind head straight to the Red Stripe or Appleton? While all of these delicious dishes are part of Jamaica’s diverse gastronomy, Jamaican cuisine is home to so many more heavenly culinary delights. This week, the Caribbean Club will be hosting their first potluck dinner of the semester. Catered by Pepperpot of Boston, the club will provide an array of plates ranging from stews to side dishes. The menu will include a serving of Ox Tail with Butter Beans, Curry Goat, Jerk Chicken, Rice and Peas, Fried Plantain, and Callaloo.

Ox Tail is a Jamaican specialty, stemming from what used to be only resourcefulness. The tail of the ox is chopped into small pieces, and is often stewed or braised, allowing it to be one of the tenderest parts of the ox. Garlic and pepper sauce are the key ingredients to making this dish divine, but it is important not to forget to add the allspice as well. Fava beans are often cooked in the same sauce, with carrots and onions.

Curry goat is a representation of the melting pot that Jamaican cuisine really is. With influences from India, Jamaican curry goat uses yellow curry along with the famous hot pepper. The tender pieces of the goat are served with the bone, along with cooked carrots, peas, and ginger. Curry goat is often served with a side of rice, to balance out the spice.

Jerk Chicken, like all jerk in Jamaica, is made in a smoke pit and the smokier the better. Jerk is a spicy rub that is used to marinate the chicken, or sometimes the pork. Jerk seasoning is made primarily from pimento and scotch bonnet peppers.  Jerk is often served with a hot scotch bonnet pepper sauce on the side, for those who like the extra kick. Traditionally, jerk is served with festivals (a fried dough), and rice and peas.

Rice and peas is a staple dish in the Jamaican diet. Though there are many varieties, the most traditional one is made from salt, coconut milk, gungo peas, thyme, and pimento berries. Rice and peas can be served with any dish and is always a nice accompaniment to a stew or meat.

Finally, callaloo is the most popular green vegetable of Jamaica. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Callaloo can be compared to America’s collard greens, but is cooked very differently. The most common way of preparing callaloo is to stir-fry it with onions, garlic, oil, and salt. It is a simple dish, but adds a nutrient pop of color to any meal.

These dishes are only a small taste of the diverse cuisine of Jamaica. If you enjoy the flavors of scotch bonnet peppers and pimento, you are bound to love almost any Jamaican dish. The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson is an excellent and easy way to learn how to cook like a true Jamaican. However, the only way to get a true taste of Jamaican food is to come to the island! Or you can come to the next Caribbean Club potluck dinner.

– Camille Bergsrud

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