Jerk chicken is an introduction to Jamaican cuisine. For the most part, it’s universally known as a Jamaican dish, with restaurants across the world offering their own versions or menu items with jerk seasoning incorporated. Jerk chicken is safe. It’s the kind of meal you suggest to friends when they’re trying Jamaican food for the first time because there’s usually some level of familiarity.
I didn’t eat jerk chicken a lot growing up. My parents never formally cooked it — although they put jerk seasoning in almost everything we ate, like squash soup and barbecue chicken wings — and my view of jerk chicken as something for amateurs who can’t handle real Jamaican food pushed me in the opposite direction. So, I wasn’t particularly excited to try my hand at cooking it on Monday. The reason I wanted to cook my way through Jamaican Cookery in the first place was to feel closer to my family and my Jamaican roots. As a first-generation American, my Jamaican-ness has always been in question; everything about me, from my taste in music to my Patois vocabulary, has been judged on a Jamaican scale. How could I move closer to my heritage — and in some way, prove to myself that I am Jamaican enough — when cooking something that felt so watered down.
To pump myself up for this cooking venture, I poured myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and blared my go-to party playlist through my speakers. With each sip, I could feel the bubbles traveling toward my head, lifting my body along with them. Soon enough, I was floating through my kitchen with Kes and Koffee dancing beside me as I chopped hot peppers and crushed pimento seeds with a rolling pin. I dutty wined in the empty space between my living room and dining room as I waited for the chicken to fully marinate in its jerk paste. It felt like I had done this many times before, as though my hands already knew what came next.
Most days, loneliness follows close behind me. I feel her presence most when I get home; when I open the door and no one’s words wrap around me. There is no sound, no movement. Just me, heavy in my arrant silence. But loneliness wasn’t there with me that night. I couldn’t hear her whispers over the music, she didn't take her place across from me at the dining table, didn’t stare at me while cutting into my jerk chicken. I was alone, and yet, she wasn’t there.
I always thought jerk chicken earned its name because of the special seasoning. In truth, it’s because jerk is a process. To jerk means to prepare meat by marinating it in spices and barbecuing it over a wood fire. Like jerk, I am also a process. Gradually learning, slowly marinating in all my unique flavors.