Recipes from Jamaica


Years ago I found a recipe for Jamaican Jerk Chicken somewhere on the internet. I cooked it, and my husband-to-be fell in love with it. He loves that recipe so much, in fact, that almost without fail he asks me to make it every year for his birthday and for father’s day. I make Jamaican peas and rice to go with it, and I have to admit that I love both recipes almost as much as he does.


I can’t really say that makes me familiar with Jamaican food, though. It makes me darn near an expert at cooking jerk chicken and peas and rice, but that’s as far as my experience with Jamaican food goes. But I did have the very good fortune of having some help with this entry in the form of a reader who contacted me a very long time ago—years ago, actually, when I did my Bahamas entry—with a suggestion for a Jamaican cookbook. I was more than happy to make this purchase because if jerk chicken is anything to go by, I like Jamaican food. But the book has mostly been sitting untouched in my kitchen because I kind of felt like it would be cheating to try and cook something from it before I actually got to Jamaica. Anyway, this book, called The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson is the source for two of this week’s four recipes.

7-mile beach in Jamaica. Photo by Michael McCarthy.
So if you don’t know anything about Jamaica, then you clearly haven’t listened to enough reggae music. Ack! Sorry, stereotype. But it is true that reggae originated in Jamaica, and so did ska, rocksteady, dancehall and some lesser-known musical genres. James Bond was also born in Jamaica, sort of—author Ian Fleming lived there and used the island as a setting for several James Bond novels.

Jamaica has a rich history, some of it good, some of it not so good. It was originally a Spanish territory but was of course eventually conquered by England, because in those days England thought it ought to own everything. When this happened the Spanish settlers fled, leaving their slaves behind. Those slaves retreated to the mountains and established free communities there that flourished for many generations, even while the British brought their own slaves to the island to work on the sugar plantations. After slavery was abolished, the British plantation owners brought in Indian and Chinese indentured servants, and their descendants still live on the island today, along with the descendants of those original slaves.


Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962, though Queen Elizabeth is still pretty sure she’s their sovereign. The island is really a commonwealth realm, though, which means it is a sovereign state that is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Jamaican cuisine is, of course, famous for jerk spice, which I will not be using because as you know, I don’t like to cook things I already have in my repertoire for these Travel by Stove meals. Instead I chose the following main course:

Jamaican Curry Chicken
(from The Real Taste of Jamaica)
  • 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lbs)
  • 2 limes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks green onion, minced
  • 1/4 inch ginger root
  • 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced
On the side (though this is often served as a meal on its own)

Jamaican Seasoned Rice
(from Jamaican Recipes)
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 3 stalks green onion
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • Oil
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3 cups long grain rice
  • 1/4 salted cod filet
  • 1 habanero pepper (optional)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tbsp catsup
  • Salt to taste
Some bread:

Coco Bread
(from Cook Like a Jamaican)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp quick-rise yeast
  • 14 oz coconut milk
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted
And for dessert:

Rum Balls
(also from The Real Taste of Jamaica)
  • 1 1/2 cup cake crumbs (or crushed biscuits*)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/4 cup grated coconut
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp rum
  • A few tbsp condensed milk, as needed
  • grated coconut
*Only in America are biscuits those fluffy buttermilk things that come in a pop-open can. In most other nations, “biscuits” are hard, thin, slightly-sweet wafers.

First the bread:

Mix the dry ingredients together with the yeast (the recipe didn’t say to proof the yeast first, which I thought was a bit odd). Now heat the coconut milk to lukewarm and mix in 2 tbsp of the melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until you get a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 10 minutes).

Or, just put it in your bread machine (which is what I did).

Now grease a bowl with some of the melted butter and put the dough inside. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours).

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, roll out the dough and divide into eight pieces. Cut each one into a circle (I used a small bowl), then brush with butter and fold over to make a semi-circle.

Place the dough pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with butter and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.

You will need to chill the dessert, so do that next:

Mix the first six ingredients together and then add a little bit of condensed milk, just enough to hold everything together. Transfer to the fridge and let chill for about 30 minutes, then take a little bit of the mixture out and roll it into a ping-pong sized ball. Roll the ball in the shredded coconut. Keep going until you’ve used up all the mixture. Return to the fridge and chill until ready to serve.

And now for the chicken:

I was a little confused by this recipe, because it called for a whole chicken and then it said to cut up the chicken while frozen so the bones don’t splinter, that way it “will be better enjoyed at eating time.” Which I interpreted to mean I should cut it into legs, thighs, breasts etc. until I went back and noticed the part that said 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces, so oops. I cooked mine on the bone, and I guess I was supposed to take it off the bone and serve it in bite-sized pieces instead.

Anyway, once you do this correctly you are supposed to add the lime juice to some water and use it to wash the chicken. Drain well.

Mix together the garlic, green onions and ginger and then spread over chicken. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes. Mix the rest of the spices together and rub over the chicken. Put back in the fridge for another hour.

Now brown the chicken in 2tbsp oil. Add 2 cups water and the potatoes. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender.

Serve with mango chutney.

Finally, the rice:

Boil the salted cod with one of the two sprigs of thyme. Meanwhile, saute the tomato in a little oil with the green onion and the second sprig of thyme.

When the salted cod is cooked all the way through, take it out of the pot and flake it (mine was quite tough so I just chopped it into little pieces).

Add everything but the butter, stirring well. Add salt to taste. Cook uncovered over a medium flame for 10 minutes, then add the butter. Simmer for a few more minutes, or until the water disappears beneath the surface of the rice. Now cover the pot and turn down to medium low. Simmer until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed.

What we thought: The chicken was really good with a nice subtle flavor. I actually think it would have been better with a spicier curry sauce (can’t do that to my kids though) and I also think it would have been more flavorful if I had actually cut it up into bite-sized pieces. I liked the rice but I think I may have made a mistake with the liquid because it turned out way too sticky, and I don't think it was supposed to be that way. And although I do like recipes that include salt cod this one was a bit too salty and fishy for my tastes. I guess I prefer my salt cod in a spicy sauce rather than as the source of flavor. 

The bread was the highlight of this meal for everyone. It was really soft and had a mild coconuty flavor. My kids were so afraid they weren’t going to get seconds that they raided the bread basket before they’d even finished eating their firsts. They were really angry at me when I ate the one leftover roll the next day. Hailey actually cried because she wanted to have it with her dinner. I know, I'm such a mean mom.

The rum balls were good, but a bit strange. Martin said they had a sour aftertaste that he didn’t like, but then he kept eating them. Of course I didn’t spend a ton of money on the rum I used, so a higher quality rum probably would have improved them.

So thank you dear reader for that book suggestion, and now that I have fulfilled my obligation to Jamaica I’ll be making a few more recipes out of that book, though probably not the calves feet jelly and pickled cow tongue.

Next week: Jan Mayen


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