Serious Entertaining: How to Host a Latke Party

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December 6, 2012 // Uncategorized

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

I am firmly of the belief that there is no greater party than a latke party. Greasy crispy latkes are the perfect party food, and Hanukkah is the perfect party holiday.* If you took last year's comprehensive guide to making latkes to heart, you may be ready to host one of your own. Here's how.

* Okay, Purim also follows the model of "they tried to kill us, they didn't, let's eat and get wasted," but come on. Fried potatoes and doughnuts.

Get Prepped

I'll admit: latkes are the perfect party food except that you can't make them ahead of time. Your latke lifetime window is about two hours at the most, and by then they're mostly cold anyway—and a trip through the oven to reheat them will soften the crisp edges you've worked so hard for.

Nor can you really make the batter ahead of time. Potatoes oxidize and turn brown fast, making for unattractive pancakes. And if you've salted your batter and let it sit, the salt will pull moisture out of your potatoes and onions, leaving you with soggy latkes. And nobody wants soggy latkes.

So the first real rule of a latke party is this: accept you will be in the kitchen a fair amount during the party. But hey, there's no reason the rest of the party can't join you there.

Here's what you can do ahead of time:

  • Chop/grate your onions. I prefer larger chunks of chopped onion, but if you like the more evenly dispersed grated onion, line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the grated onions of excess water.
  • Remove eggs from fridge. Mixing latke batter with eggs straight from the fridge means icy fingers—no fun. Let your eggs come to room temperature for a couple hours.
  • Measure your matzo meal/flour. Every latke recipe will tell you to adjust your starchy binder as needed, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't measure beforehand. My recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups; I'll usually measure out two. It's easier to return extra matzo meal to the box when your hands are clean.
  • Wash your potatoes. Potato skins contribute flavor and texture to latkes, so leave them on! But giving them a good scrubbing beforehand will cut down on prep time.
  • Set aside space to mix your latke batter and a separate area to drain the fried ones. Paper towels on a cookie sheet work just fine.
  • Have a drink. You have a long, greasy, starch-spackled night ahead of you, but it'll all be fun. Time to relax.

You can, if you want, shred or grate your potatoes ahead of time and keep them submerged underwater. This will keep them from oxidizing, but I never bother. The real time-suck in making latkes comes from straining the potatoes, which I do by wrapping a small bunch in cheesecloth, tying the cloth's corners around a wooden spoon, and twisting the bundle round and round until pressure forces out the water. You can only do that in small batches, so I don't mind shredding as I go.

Identify a Helper

Once you get to latke making, your hands are going to get starchy and sticky. That's where having a friend comes in: someone to shred potatoes while you strain, to pass you ingredients while you're mixing, to keep the hungry hordes at bay by sending your freshly fried latkes out to a grateful world.

Your helper can be anyone with a modicum of handiness, as none of this work is particularly hard. In fact, you may want to bias against those with strong kitchen experience. No two people make latkes alike, and there's no reason you should have to put up with someone else criticizing your technique. For this reason my mother and I cannot make latkes together.

Sides

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

My grandmother, who was every inch as fabulous as her pearls, posh Upper West Side apartment, and schmaltz-stained Silver Palate cookbook would suggest, served latkes as a side to brisket. This is less difficult than it sounds, since brisket tastes best the next day anyway, and all you need to do day-of is heat it up in the oven you're not using for latkes.

But I don't own pearls, my 70s-tastic Queens apartment could only be called posh in the most ironic way, and frankly I'm not half the cook grandma Dorothy ever was. So at my latke parties, latkes are the meal. All else is secondary, and I've never heard a single complaint.

That said, you'll want some sides. For starters, make your own applesauce. All it takes is good apples, a pinch salt, and twenty minutes of mostly passive time for something that'll taste way better than anything from a jar.

Raw Veggies

Kick the party off with a vegetable platter. Your guests will appreciate some crisp, clean veggies, and it's easy for you. To really get them hungry, whip up a quick pickle or two in the days leading up to the party.

Salads

Arugula, Fennel and Orange Salad

[Photograph: Jennifer Segal]

Salads also lighten up the meal, and can be made ahead of time to toss with dressing right before eating. The combination of roast beets and eggs feels appropriate for a latke-filled evening; arugula, fennel, and orange is an even brighter seasonally appropriate idea. If you use a food processor to shred your potatoes, put it to work for this grated carrot and mint salad, too.

Dress Up Your Latkes

Less a side and more a latke addition, but an easy way to make potato pancakes feel more meal-like. If you have a friend with some money who wants to make a contribution, ask them to bring some caviar, which you can spoon on your latkes with some crème fraîche in lieu of sour cream. Or pull a Ben Fishner and top your pancakes with sour cream and lox.

Go Ahead, Make the Brisket

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[Photograph: Olga Massov]

And hey, if you want to be like my grandma Dorothy and make a brisket too, we have you covered with recipes both traditional and nouveau.

Desserts

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[Photograph: Kumiko Mitarai]

If you're hosting a dairy-only party, I can't think of a better post-latke dessert than pavlova topped with whatever fruit is in season. Diced pears and persimmons are nice this time of year, especially when drizzled with pomegranate molasses or apple cider cooked down to a syrup. All of the components can be made ahead of time and assembled right before serving.

Honey Cake

[Photograph: Maria del Mar Sacasa]

Going the meat-only route? Okay: honey cake. Yeah it's a Rosh Hashanah thing, but good honey cake should be celebrated more than once a year. And when you surprise your guests with an actually good honey cake? You'll be their new golden boy/shayna maidel.

Hey, What About Doughnuts?

I know sufganyot are the traditional post-latke treat, but I have never once said to myself after stuffing my face with fried potatoes, I could really go for a doughnut right now. Plus doughnuts mean more frying, also last-minute, something I recommend all but the most obsessive homemakers avoid.

But hey, it's your party. You want doughnuts? Here are eleven worthy options for your table.

Drinks

I have long endured eating latkes with red wine, but no more! Beer may be the fried potato drink of choice, but it's easier to convince your guests to go for sparkling wine instead. Want cocktails? Applejack drinks just taste right this time of year. Just be sure to make them in batches.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

French in a Flash: Quatre Epices Glazed Carrots

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December 6, 2012 // Uncategorized

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[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

One thing (of the many things) I love about French cuisine is the little mixtures of herbs and spices that, together, have become vastly important and common as one ingredient. Herbes de Provence. Fines herbes. Quatre épices. Blends that are ubiquitous in France, and synonymous with certain ingredients or preparations.

And the great thing is quatre épices, a simple blend of ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper, is like a savory version of holiday spice. Put it in anything and it instantly assumes a kind of medieval banquet air that reminds you of gingerbread or mulled wine—but savory.

For this side, I do a simple glazed carrot. It's very traditional in France to cook your carrots this way: with butter and water in a pan, letting the steam evaporate as it softens the carrots, and then letting the butter envelope them. I simply switch up plain sliced carrots for the charming mini Chantenary variety and add a pinch of quatre épices to spice things up. They play so well with the natural sweetness of the carrots—it's perfect.

Get the Recipe

Quatre Épices Glazed Carrots »

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way.

Get the Recipe!

From Sweets

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[Photograph: Sarah Woo]

Sweet Rose Creamery is a place where pedigree ingredients and a small batch method really do translate directly into pure flavor. Head chef Shiho Yoshikawa takes her inspiration (and sometimes ingredients) from seasonal produce available at local farmers markets. And from someone with prior experience at places such as Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, I expected something above ordinary.

I tried the Mint Chip ($5.50 for two small scoops), one of five Classic flavors you can always find on the menu. This flavor is not just good; it puts other mint chip ice creams to shame. The texture is creamy and velvety, with a dense richness that makes a small scoop just the right amount. The chocolate pieces are made in house, but unlike other mint chip ice creams you have tried in the past, the real star here is the mint. Forget that artificial mint flavor you find in candies and lesser quality ice creams. Here, fresh organic mint is steeped in the custard base so that each spoonful is like biting into a sprig of mint pulled straight from the pot. Between the mint and the soft, creamy texture, I found myself taking bite after bite.

All the ice cream at Sweet Rose is made in small batches each morning, to ensure maximum freshness and flavor. I plan to return to try other flavors (dairy-free black sesame delight with Meiji Tofu soy milk, I have my eye on you). But I have a feeling I'll end up asking for the Mint Chip again. It's that good.

Sweet Rose Creamery
The Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th Street, Suite 51, Santa Monica, CA 90402; (map) (310) 260-2663;www.sweetrosecreamery.com

About the author: Sarah Woo is a pasture-raised, California girl paired with slow-grilled Santa Maria tri-tip and piquant Korean kimchi. Check out her kitchen adventures at Winner Celebration Party. You can also follow her on Twitter at @wcpartyparty.

NYC Food Events for the Weekend and Beyond

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December 6, 2012 // Uncategorized

From Serious Eats: New York

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Saturday (December 8)

Eight Nights of Latkes at Kutscher's Tribeca
Saturday, December 8th, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The TriBeCa restaurant is offering a different kind of latke for each night of Hanukkah. $10-$14. 186 Franklin Street, New York NY; event website

The Art of the Tequila Cocktail at Sycamore
Saturday, December 8th, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sycamore's own Mike Mikos and Wil Petre host this tequila cocktail demonstration. Recipe booklets will be available to take home. $30. 1118 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY; event website

Hanukkah at Telepan
Saturday, December 8th, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Chef Bill Telepan of Telepan will be serving potato latkes at his restaurant starting this Saturday for the first night of Hanukkah. $14-$22. 72 West 69th Street, New York NY; event website

Hurricane Sandy Relief Party
Saturday, December 8th, 2 p.m.
Ugly Kitchen hosts this Hurricane Sandy relief brunch, featuring music, food, and drinks.. All bar tab proceeds will go to the Red Cross. $10. 103 First Avenue, New York NY; event website

Sunday (December 9)

Regional Roundtables at Corkbuzz Wine Studio
Sunday December 9, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Corbuzz Wine Studio's Regional Roundtables discussion and tasting series will be focusing on Piedmont wines this week. $60. 13 East 13th Street, New York NY; 1118 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY; event website

Dates at the New Amsterdam Market
Sunday December 9, 11 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The market will be offering a wide variety of organic dates from California farms, especially for the holidays. Free entry. Beekman Street, New York NY; 1118 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY; event website

Cripple Creek Live! Pop-Up Cocktail Bar
Sunday December 9, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Monday December 10, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Aaron Polsky (Amor y Amargo, formerly Neta) and Damon Boelte (Prime Meats) are launching a 2-night pop-up bar in the basement of Lit Lounge. Expect rock and roll soundtrack and awesome cocktails. $40 gets you samples of all 8 drinks. Lit Lounge Basement, 95 2nd Ave; event website

Monday (December 10)

Fourth Annual Latke Festival
Monday, December 10th, 6:30 p.m.
17 restaurants include Balaboosta, Fatty 'Cue, and Veselka, bring their latke skills to Brooklyn. Leonard Lopate and Gabrielle Gershenson are among the judges. Drinks are included with tickets. $55. BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn NY; event website

Tuesday (December 11)

Tasting Table Food Fight
Tuesday, December 11th, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
A tasting event that highlights the Great Food Debates of our time. For example, east or west coaster oysters? Glazed or filled doughnuts? Tickets include open bar, and twenty percent of ticket sales will be donated to the Food Bank of New York City. $100. 37 Main Street, Brooklyn NY; event website

Gran Cocina Latina
Tuesday, December 11th, 6:30 p.m.
James Beard Award-winning chef and cookbook author Maricel Presilla will lead a talk on regional Latin American cooking in the U.S. She'll also whip up some tasty bites including peach palm salad and Ecuadorian pork sandwiches. $30. 103 Orchard Street, New York, NY; event website

Latke Sizzle! At 92Y
Tuesday, December 11th, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Top Chef judge Gail Simmons talks Jewish cooking with cookbook author Mitchell Davis, followed by a cooking demonstration and latke tasting. $29. 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York NY; event website

Wild Game and Wine Dinner
Tuesday, December 11th
The Chef and Wine Director of 'inoteca are creating and hosting this wild game, wine-paired dinner. $110. 98 Rivington Street, New York NY; event website

Wednesday (December 12)

Italian-American Foodways and the Making of Modern New York
Wednesday, December 12th, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Rocco Marinaccio on the history of Italian cuisine in America and New York. Free. 25 West 43rd Street, New York NY; event website

Chef Sarah Kirnon (shown at right in the photo) made a splash with fresh takes on Caribbean flavors at Hibiscus and Front Porch. Her new Oakland restaurant, Miss Ollie's, draws from the same palette of flavors that informed her earlier work. For the Barbados-born chef it's personal: Her first restaurant as both chef and owner is named for her grandmother. Kirnon's influences are the women-run restaurants that fused the national cuisines of the West Indies, mirroring the fluidity and movement of island populations.

At a series of pop-ups in advance of Miss Ollie's opening, local Chowhound escargot3 was wild for the signature fried chicken, salt cod with roasted vegetables, and house-made hot sauce. MagicMarkR was on the scene at two-day-old Miss Ollie's and reports that the place is bustling and the bone-in goat stew with red beans and rice is fantastic. Stewed in a tomato sauce touched with cinnamon, the goat lacked only one thing: a larger portion to sate a happy diner.

For now, the restaurant is lunch only, from 11 a.m. until the food runs out (which they estimate at 3-ish). Starting in January, dinner service begins.

Miss Ollie's [East Bay]
901 Washington Street, Oakland
415-260-4545

Discuss: Miss Ollie's - Oakland
Miss Ollies, Oakland preliminary impressions

Photo courtesy of Miss Ollie's

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From Drinks

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When pondering wines made in the U.S., the mind will often jump to California and comfortably settle in. While it's true that the Golden State produces around 89% of American wine by volume, there are plenty of other U.S. wine producing regions worth checking out.

Last year, SE Drinks editor Maggie Hoffman visited Washington State during the grape harvest and tried a few excellent bottles. Today, we've lined up a budget wine battle featuring a few Washington wineries you've likely heard of before.

In total, Washington State produces around 4% of America's domestic wine. But what the northwest state lacks in volume, it makes up for in enchanting wine region names. Yakima. Walla Walla. Red Mountain. Horse Heaven Hills. Rattlesnake Hills. Wahluke Slope. Lake Chelan. Snipes Mountain. These AVAs (American Viticultural Regions) are encompassed in the macro-region called Columbia Valley, which is where 99% of Washington State's wine grapes are grown.

We tried a few popular and widely-available Columbia Valley-sourced
bottles from Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest Grand Estates (both part of the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates collective). We tasted our way through the Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon from both lineups. As for price, you can usually find Columbia Crest for around $10, whereas the Chateau Ste. Michelle is closer to $14. But are the extra few dollars worth it?

Best Chardonnay: Columbia Crest

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While the Chateau Ste. Michelle Chard was sort of all over the place—there was an initial hit of butter flavor cut with bitterness toward the end—the Columbia Crest was much smoother. After the first sip of the Columbia Crest, there was a collective sigh from our tasters, as in "okay, this is more like what we'd expect." This wine had a milky, creamy scent, but the oaky side was kept almost-in-balance by lemony acidity. Feel free to drink this Chardonnay on its own, but crab legs with ample butter or chicken and cream sauce would be delicious with it.

Best Merlot: Chateau Ste. Michelle

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Washington State is known for its merlot (along with syrah and cabernet), though it suffered from the Sideways effect—that's right, some people actually stopped buying merlot for awhile because Paul Giamatti's character said it wasn't cool. We found that the Chateau Ste. Michelle beat out Columbia Crest in the merlot category, mostly because of the difference in their oak treatment.

The Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot reminded us of fresh red cranberries and orange zest, with more earthy, savory flavors coming through at the end of each sip. We'd happily drink this with turkey or salmon. The Columbia Crest version seemed much sweeter, and the aggressive oak flavors reminded us of cherry vanilla cola.

Best Cabernet: Chateau Ste. Michelle

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There's actually more cabernet grown in Washington State than merlot, and we've tried some delicious higher-end bottles. But both the Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet and the version from Columbia Crest were a little disappointing. Both seemed relatively sweet for Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Chateau Ste. Michelle had a little smokiness that kept it interesting. I would give this wine some good swirling before you dive in, to let the maraschino cherry turn more toward ripe, bing cherry. Keep some salty cheese handy (think aged Gouda) to help this wine perform well.

What do you think about Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle? Have you tried these wines or any of their other bottles? Got any other budget wine recommendations from Washington State? Let us know in the comments section.

About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

All wines were provided as review samples for review consideration.

Drop by Chowhound next week, and you'll notice a brand-new design that we here at CHOW are very, very proud of. We're giving the food and restaurant discussion site an easier-to-read typeface, a clutter-free layout, and a mobile version (pictured) that's simpler to navigate, exciting changes that mainly affect board and thread pages. For a preview, click here.

Questions? We've created an introductory video that will launch alongside the release to help guide you through the unfamiliar bits. In the meantime, feel free to post queries on the Site Talk board.

 



Chicken Dinners: Chicken Bolognese

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December 6, 2012 // Uncategorized

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Rich and meaty without all the fat. [Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

I truly savor digging into a big bowl of rich and meaty pasta bolognese. This classic rustic Italian meat sauce is immensely comforting and satisfying. Thick and tomato-y, with full beef flavor, it's just the ticket for a chilly night. While I usually go for the no-holds-bar beef version, I set myself a challenge: to see if I could cook up a pot of this rich sauce using chicken instead.

At first, I planned on simply swapping chicken for beef. Knowing that chicken is leaner than beef, I thought I'd just add in a few fattier ingredients (butter, cream) to replicate the full bodied richness of the dish. But then I realized that, honestly, the only reason anyone would want to make a bolognese with chicken would be to cut down on the fat. Therefore, my goal would be to create robust meaty flavor and full bodied texture, without adding a ton of extra fat.

To start, I limited myself to just two tablespoons olive oil to sauté the veggies. Once soft, I added in the minced chicken. I could tell right away that chicken creates a lean sauce, as the cooked chicken left not a smidgeon of fat in the pan. In many classic bolognese recipes, the meat is simmered in dairy and usually a wine to add flavor and to keep the texture of the meat soft. I followed suit, choosing milk, and then stirred in a full-bodied red wine. Next, I pulled out a few tricks from my days working in a test kitchen. Because chicken lacks the full flavor that beef has, I had to do something to make this sauce more interesting. I knew that umami-clad ingredients work wonders to boost meaty flavor, so I threw in a small amount of three of 'em: tomato paste, soy sauce, and...anchovies. I kept a light hand though. No one wants a fork full of fishy bolognese.

I had one more trick up my sleeve. Without beef fat, chicken bolognese lacks the hallmark creaminess of a good meat sauce. Stirring in a small amount of softened gelatin into the sauce added just enough body to mimic a collagen-rich beef sauce. Hearty and complex, this variation on a classic is sure to satisfy. Trust me, you won't be asking where's the beef.

Get the Recipe

Chicken Bolognese »

About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com. Follow Yvonne on Twitter.

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Chicago Food Events for the Weekend and Beyond

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December 6, 2012 // Uncategorized

From Chicago

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Thursday, December 6th

Fête, Food and Design Market
December 6th, 6 to 10 p.m.
Check out 30 local food and design vendors with unique, gift-able items. A portion of proceeds go to Fresh Moves, a charity combatting food deserts. $5 at the door or pay in advance. here 1520 West Fulton Street, Room 1520; event website

Friday, December 7th

Oskar Blues Cask Tapping
December 7th, 7 p.m.
SmallBar Division is bringing in the holidays with a cask tapping. Various stouts will be available for taste comparisons. Chef Justin White has made a Shepard's pie with Oskar Blues Ten FIDY Stout gravy for the event. No cover charge. Beer available for purchase. 2049 W. Division St.; event website

Sunday, December 9th

Sunday Sandwich at Great Lake
December 9th, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Great Lake is selling roasted and pulled Gunthorp Farm Pork Shoulder in homemade barbecue sauce on freshly baked buns. In addition, salad and cookies will be featured. There will not be pizza, however. 1477 W Balmoral Ave

Beyond the Weekend

Sprout's December Sunday Dinner
December 16th, 6 p.m.
The dinner's theme will be "charity," with a portion of proceeds going to The National Down Syndrome Society. Dinner will feature a take on seasonal classics, such as duck, lobster, and venison. There will be hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, and a four course meal. Call 773-348-0706 for reservations. $65. 1417 W. Fulton; event website

Author's note: Thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board, I recently had the chance to travel to Jamaica with a group of fellow journalists. We sampled all kinds of tasty foods, visited coffee and fruit plantations, and learned many things about the varied cuisine of the island.

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[Photographs: Lauren Rothman]

Jerk chicken is the most well-known Jamaican dish to have been exported from the island. You know what I'm talking about: moist pieces of poultry that are full of soaked-up marinade flavor, with burnished skin and crispy, blackened bits of meat courtesy of the grill the bird is cooked on.

But if you've never had the chance to visit the tiny nation that jerk chicken hails from, then you've never really had the authentic dish. Here's why: true jerk chicken is cooked not just over coals, but also over fresh green wood: most traditionally, wood from the pimento tree, which is native to the Caribbean and produces another very important jerk chicken ingredient—allspice berries, used in the marinade—or sometimes sweetwood, the Jamaican name for the laurel tree.

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Pimento wood and sweetwood stacked up at Scotchies Jerk Centre in Ocho Rios.

In Jamaica, the wood of these trees is essential to the jerk process. To cook the chicken (or the pork, also widely available at jerk joints), it all starts with the wood, which, in the form of charcoals, is laid under huge metal grates and continually stoked to stay roaring hot. Then, big logs of pimento or allspice wood are laid on top of the grates. The meat is placed directly on top of the green wood, then covered with big sheets of metal.

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Jerk chicken grilling on pimento wood at Scotchies.

As the chicken cooks, it absorbs oils directly from the surface of the wood, and also gets imbued with the fragrant steam and smoke produced by the green wood and the charcoals underneath. Once the chicken is cooked—it takes about two hours for a butterflied chicken turned once— it's removed from the grill, stripped from the bone, and chopped up, all the better to expose it to fiery-hot Scotch bonnet sauce traditionally served on the side.

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Fiery, vinegary Scotch bonnet pepper sauce, to be eaten with jerk chicken or pork.

But let's back up a little bit, shall we? Long before jerk chicken even hits that elaborate grill setup, it's soaked in a simple to make but complex-tasting marinade that gives the meat its sweet and spicy flavor.

If you do an internet search for jerk chicken recipes, you're likely to find hundreds of different ideas of what goes into the traditional marinade. Some recipes call for soy sauce, some for brown sugar; some call for whole cloves, some for ground; some add hot Scotch bonnet peppers, while others add milder jalapeños; and the list goes on and on.

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Jerk chicken marinade.

In Jamaica, the jerk chicken joints I visited were invariably reluctant to share exactly what goes into their house marinades, but there's an agreed-upon formula that forms the base of the marinade, which individual cooks or restaurants will riff on, changing an ingredient here, adding another one there. The formula includes these ingredients:

  • Allspice berries. The fruit of the pimento tree used for grilling jerk chicken, allspice berries are dried and resemble peppercorns. They have a sweet, spicy, floral flavor, and got their name when English settlers of the Caribbean tasted them and thought they combined the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The berries are ground to release their essential oils.
    • Thyme. Fresh is preferable, but dried is also used.
      • Scotch bonnet pepper. Native to the Caribbean, Scotch bonnet peppers are extremely spicy, about 40 times hotter than jalapeños. The peppers are chopped or blended for use in the marinade, and seeds can be left in or removed for less heat.
        • Scallions or green onions. Both white and green parts, chopped.
          • Fresh ginger. Peeled and grated. The ginger plant flourishes in the Caribbean, and is used in many regional specialties such as ginger beer and sorrel, a drink that's brewed from hibiscus flowers.

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          Traditional jerk marinade ingredients, from back to front: soy sauce and sugar; whole Scotch bonnets and allspice berries; chopped ginger and scallions; fresh thyme and chopped Scotch bonnets.

          And that's it. Other common ingredients added to this base include ground cinnamon or nutmeg, brown or white sugar, vegetable oil, or soy sauce. Most cooks marinate their meat for as long as possible, at least 12 hours but sometimes up to 24. As a result, the chicken is imbued with a ton of flavor before it even meets the coals and wood that will fill it with smokiness.

          Well-made, authentic jerk chicken is addictive: It's both smoky and moist, sweet and spicy. The long marination and long cooking time leave it soft and tender, and the hot chile sauce typically served on the side cuts through the richness of the meat and keeps you going back for more.

          But there's another reason jerk is so dear to Jamaicans' hearts, and that's its long history on the island. The method of cooking is said to have originated under the colonial rule, first of the Spanish and then of the British, in the 1600s. Groups of African slaves that had been brought to Jamaica to work its sugar plantations escaped to the mountainous interior of the island, where the native Indian population also sought refuge from the colonizers. These escaped slaves, today referred to as Maroons, are said to have hunted the wild boar common to the region, then preserved it for days in a spice-heavy marinade. When it came time to cook the meat, the Maroons dug holes in the ground, filled them with charcoal, and buried the meat in the holes, which they then covered so as not to produce smoke and attract the attention of those that would bring them back into slavery.

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          A view from the Blue Mountains, outside Kingston.

          Whatever the recipe used, Jamaicans have a fierce passion for this native dish that's as treasured for its historical significance as it is for its sheer tastiness.

          About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.