Mile End/St. Louis BBQ #1’s* North Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ was small by comparison. We got the word out kind of late and essentially we wound up catering to a small coterie of friends, with just a few new faces thrown in for good measure. That was our first experiment with taking it to the streets, though, so we were happy to keep things tidy. This time around, we got a little more adventurous. We made a lot more food, teamed up with our friends at Backroom Records and Pastries, and spread the word a little more widely. People started arriving before we’d even finished setting up. And within ten minutes of opening up for business roving bands of jerk BBQ/vinyl/pastry enthusiasts started to make their way up the alley to pay us a visit. 90 minutes later, we’d been cleaned right out. What a rush! Michelle and I barely got a chance to sample our own wares—we had two jerk pork sandwiches, two ginger beers, and two, count ‘em, two shrimp between us. Hell, we were so busy I never even got a chance to pull out my camera to document the event. We couldn’t have been happier though. When the dust had settled, we’d fed somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 people, and in spite of some shortages late in the game, most appeared to have left satisfied. Meanwhile Backroom Records was doing booming business and Backroom Pastries had moved every last slice of Rum Cake and Coconut Cake.
Want to throw your own jerk pork BBQ event? Want to experience the high that comes from making heavily Scotch bonnet-laced Jamaican jerk in your very own kitchen? Want to open your own jerk joint? Well, here’s everything you need to know…
One thing you’ll notice as you peruse the recipes below is that that Jamaican holy foursome of Scotch bonnet peppers, fresh thyme, scallions, and allspice shows up repeatedly. Don’t let this dissuade you. You’ll find that each dish has its own distinct personality.
Jerk Pork BBQ
Michelle and I were both big fans of Jamaican jerk BBQ to begin with, but there’s no question that we were hugely inspired by Melissa’s truly breathtaking account of her culinary adventures in Jamaica, and specifically by the wonderful post she devoted to the subject of Jamaican jerk. Those of you who know us here at “…an endless banquet” know we’ve been big fans of The Traveler’s Lunchbox for quite some time, but her series of posts that resulted from her recent trip to Jamaica might very well be our all-time favorites. She built up slowly to a crescendo, making her way through tantalizing accounts of Jamaican breakfasts, rum tastings, and garlic lobsters--when she finally got around to discussing the search for perfect jerk, a topic clearly dear to her heart, we were nearly beside ourselves.
We used a slightly modified version of Melissa’s Jamaican Jerk Pork recipe, a recipe which she had adapted herself from Lucinda Quinn’s Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Kitchen, and which she claimed came closest to capturing the majesty of a jerk joint like Scotchies. The major difference was that we cooked the pork in the oven longer and at a lower temperature, just as we’d done when we made our North Carolina-style BBQ (to refresh your memory with regards to this Basic Pulled Pork Barbecue method, looky here). We did this partly because we needed to roast then grill our meat and then have it ready to go by 11:30-11:45, and partly because we were so darn pleased with the results of our first pork BBQ event. So, once again, we wrapped our pork shoulders (this time boneless) in foil, making sure we’d given them tight seals, placed them in a water bath in our roasting pan, and cooked them slow and low overnight. And once again, I’m sure the aroma of that jerk paste-marinated pork drove our neighbors crazy all night long. We also made two batches, one with one Scotch bonnet pepper, for the faint of heart, and one with four to appeal to our hard-core contingent. Melissa recommends that the amateur stick to the 1-6 Scotch bonnet range, but points out that in Jamaica, “the sky’s the limit.” It might just have been the particular Scotch bonnets that we got, but, in retrospect, I wish I’d made batch #1 with 3 and batch #2 with 6. When the two batches had slow cooked for 8+ hours, we unwrapped the pork shoulders and finished them on our hickory-smoked grill (unfortunately, pimento wood is a little hard to come by here in the Great White North) for about 15-20 minutes, making sure they got blackened just so on the outside, while remaining juicy and tender on the inside.
Jamaican Hot Pepper Shrimp
We found this recipe in Gourmet’s May 2005 Street Food Issue. The idea of buying hot and spicy shrimp by the bag beachside instantly won us over. Imagine.
We followed this recipe closely, multiplying everything by a factor of three because we had 3 lbs of shrimp, but we balked when it came to adding 9 fresh Scotch bonnet peppers. I wish we hadn't. Our shrimp were nice and spicy, but not wild, the way we would have liked.
4 cups water
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh Scotch bonnet peppers, halved and seeded
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
10 whole allspice
1 lb large shrimp
Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp in a heavy pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the shrimp, making sure they’re just covered by the liquid, and remove the pot from the heat. Cool shrimp in the liquid to room temperature, uncovered, about 1 hour. Transfer the shrimp with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl and drizzle some of the cooking liquid on top, or serve them 6 or 12 to a bag the way we did.
Jamaican-style “Rice and Peas” with Red Beans
This recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook, a book that still gets a lot of use in our household even if we have drifted from vegetarianism over the years (we’re hosting pork BBQ events now, for Christ’s sake). You’ll notice that here the Scotch bonnet pepper is used whole. This way it only imparts a subtle citric flavor to the dish. Be careful not to puncture the pepper or the dish will become exponentially hotter.
1 1/2 cups dried red beans
2 cups canned coconut milk, well-stirred
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
6 tbsp finely sliced scallions or 4 tbsp finely chopped chives
3 to 4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves
1 small onion
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 – 2 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Soak the beans overnight or use the quick-soak method. Drain, discarding your soaking liquid.
In a large pot, bring the beans and 4 cups of water to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, or until the beans have turned just tender. Add the coconut milk, the Scotch bonnet pepper, the scallions or chives, thyme, garlic, onion, and allspice. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, stir, and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Taste and make sure the seasonings are well-balanced. Remove the Scotch bonnet pepper and the thyme sprigs before serving. Serve over freshly cooked white rice, or stir into a pot of 3 cups of freshly cooked basmati rice like we did, using the cooking liquid as needed to give the “Rice and Peas” just the moistness you desire.
Super Ape-Approved Ginger Beer
This recipe came from one of Saveur's summer special issues. We loved the way the vanilla bean helped to smooth out an otherwise potent brew (deliciously so, I might add). The mint leaves are a great finishing touch, too.
3/4 lb fresh ginger, peeled and grated using the large-hole side of a box grater
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp ground mace
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Half a bunch of fresh mint
Put the ginger, lime juice, mace, and 1/2 cup of the sugar into a widemouthed gallon glass or a ceramic jar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the jar and add the pod as well. Add 12 cups boiling water to the jar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set ginger mixture aside to let steep and cool to room temperature. Cover jar tightly and refrigerate for 1 week.
When the ginger mixture has brewed for one week, line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. Strain the ginger mixture through the sieve into another widemouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar, firmly pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract every last bit of flavor. Discard the solids. Add the remaining sugar to the ginger beer and stir until it dissolves. Serve in glasses over crushed ice, garnished with mint sprigs. If you want to stretch out the ginger beer or dilute it a bit and add some effervescence, mix with club soda first.
The moral of these stories: don't hold back. Have faith in the almighty Scotch bonnet pepper (or in the power of ginger, for that matter) and go for broke.
* Since we keep getting asked, the name is a nod to the legendary Lexington BBQ #1 in Lexington, NC. The Mile End/St. Louis prefix has nothing to do with St. Louis, MO, it’s the name of the district we live in.