New Twist on A Holiday Favorite: Jamaican Jerked Pernil

Most people don’t recognize all of the similarities between the Spanish Caribbean and other islands in the area, like Jamaica. But both in culture and food, we have a common history. Did you know that Jamaica was colonized by Spain for hundreds of years before the island was taken over by the British? A large part of the reason that the Spaniards were defeated had to do with the Maroons, a community of escaped slaves who fought for the British in return for their freedom and an autonomous government. The independent Maroon society still exists to this day and originally created the spicy mixture for Jerk to help preserve their meats.

The traditional way of cooking jerk—over a barbecue-style pit—can be traced to the Taino Indians, the indigenous tribe that also lived in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Even though the most authentic way to prepare jerk is by grilling or barbecuing outdoors, the dish can also be oven roasted.

We all know that nothing makes a holiday meal complete like a big juicy pernil. But if you want to add a little kick and try something different, add these special spices which make up the base of the jerking process and use them as a dry rub for your pork shoulder. There is no single classic recipe for jerk or even a specific way to combine and mix ingredients. Like a lot of Latin food, the amount of spice and heat is totally up to you. But there are some basic ingredients that you should round up if you want to try your hand at Jamaican Jerk Pernil.

Basic Ingredients:
Scotch Bonnet Pepper
All Spice (also known as Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or newspice—this is the main preservative)

Sweet Chiles
Hot Pepper
Black Pepper
Habanero Pepper
Brown Sugar
Soy Sauce (for moisture and to help mix dry ingredients)

Tips on Jerking Pork:

  • Scotch bonnet peppers are among the spiciest available, the more you use, the spicier the flavor. One pepper will produce a mildly spicy dish while four will make for a very spicy dish.
  • Remember to always wash your hands when handling very hot peppers such as the scotch bonnet! The last thing you want to do is transfer any of those oils to your face or eyes.
  • Be sure to plan ahead so that the pork can marinate for at least 24 hours.
  • Score the thick fat on the pork shoulder before rubbing in spices to allow the marinade to penetrate, but be sure not to cut the actual meat.
  • When ready to cook, preheat oven to 450 F. Roast for 30 minutes at high heat, then lower temperature to 300 F and bake for another 3 to 3-1/2 hours. Let roast rest at least 30 minutes before carving.