By Mimi Kmet
My first Crystal voyage was in the Caribbean, and I remember relaxing with my significant other in chaise lounges on the aft deck, as we sailed from Ocho Rios and watched the sun set after a day ashore.
I had been to Ocho Rios before, doing the fun tourist activities, like taking a leisurely bamboo raft ride along the Martha Brae River and “hiking” down Dunn’s River Falls, which we also did on this Crystal shore excursion. But since we had a few hours after our excursion, we wanted to soak up the local culture.
And what better way to do that than to indulge in Jamaican soul food? I’m talking about the island’s traditional jerk cooking style: grilled meat such as chicken, pork and conch that’s been marinated in a sauce made with local herbs and spices that gives it a fiery kick — although it’s not too hot for me, a relative tenderfoot when it comes to spicy foods.
So we headed for the Ocho Rios Jerk Centre. Just a short walk from the cruise terminal, it was easy to find. But we could have found it blindfolded just by following the smoky, savory aromas coming from the grills. At this laid-back, open-air eatery, we indulged in a combination of dishes, including the fresh catch of the day, accompanied by fried plantains and red peas (kidney beans) and rice. A cold bottle of Jamaica’s own Red Stripe lager made for a perfect pairing.
This is the quintessential Jamaican street food. But don’t call it fast food. Patrons — locals and visitors who mingle among the picnic tables — typically aren’t in a rush. So there we sat for about an hour and a half, unable to stop our nibbling as we listened to the reggae music coming in over the PA system and chatted with people who shared a table with us.
(While the Ocho Rios Jerk Centre is one of Jamaica’s most popular eateries, there are several places in town to indulge, including Island Grill, Jerkin @ Taj and BiBiBips. Others, including Scotchies Too, White River Ranch Jerk Centre and Lyming, are part of Jamaica’s Jerk Trail.)
After our feast, that late-afternoon snooze on board ship was the perfect way to end the day. I only wished I could take some jerk chicken — or at least a jar of sauce — home with me.
Alas, this recipe from Crystal’s masterful culinary team will more than suffice:
Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango Cilantro Relish
½ cup vegetable oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 scallions, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeno, stem and seeds removed
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1 tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
4 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
4 drumsticks, skin on
Puree all ingredients, except chicken, in a food processor until almost smooth. Pierce the chicken with a fork to make tiny holes. Place the chicken in a large, shallow baking dish and rub the marinade into chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, depending on how intense you want the flavor to be. Preheat grill. Grill chicken on each side for 5-6 minutes or until cooked through.
2 mangoes, peeled and diced
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
3 tbsp. lime juice
3 tbsp. fresh orange juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.