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Jerk Spice Is the Key to a Flavor-Packed Dinner Party

When she has guests, the Jerk Shack’s chef, Nicola Blaque, relies on her favorite Jamaican recipe and some surprising accoutrement

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This is Party Time, a column featuring industry and Young Gun-approved approaches for acing a dinner party.

From a small walk-up window on the side of the road, chef Nicola Blaque gives the people of San Antonio a lesson in Jamaican food. “I’m trying to bring lots of flavor to the city outside of Mexican cuisine. Even though Caribbean and Latin cultures are very tied in, the flavor profiles are on different spectrums,” she says. “I’m just trying to bring everybody together.” Based on the lines that form daily to eat at the Jerk Shack, where her crispy jerk fried chicken wings earned the restaurant a spot on Eater’s Best New Restaurants list, she’s doing a great job.

Blaque’s determination to educate others on the flavors she grew up with applies to her guests at home, too. “Just because I’m Jamaican and I feel like a lot of people don’t have exposure to Caribbean food, I always make grilled jerk wings. It’s a spice that a lot of people are now just getting introduced to and it’s hotter than Buffalo, so that’s my favorite thing to make,” she says.

Jerk chicken wings on a wooden cutting board. Shutterstock

If you want to serve Blaque’s grilled jerk chicken wings at your next dinner party, you’ll need to plan ahead. She brines the wings in a 50 percent salt and sugar brine with Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, peppercorns, and lemon or lime for 24 hours. Then, she marinates the wings for another 24 hours. “The brine helps infuse the salt and balances out the flavors,” she explains. “Then I let the wings sit in the jerk sauce before grilling them so the marinade doesn’t fall off on the grill.”

Before serving the wings, which Blaque serves as a main course, she recommends putting out an appetizer spread. “I’m a huge fan of different dips,” she says. “I like intermixing flavors, so I would do tortilla chips and a dip made with cream cheese, ginger, scallion, soy sauce, and honey, topped off with some scallions.” Blaque also offers guests fries with Gochujang, honey, thyme, rosemary, and hot oil, as well as a roasted corn dish that serves as another vehicle for her jerk spice blend thanks to a dose of jerk lemon butter.

To round out the meal, she likes to serve rum cake brownies — “rum cake is usually heavy, so I’ll make them into a small batch of brownie squares” — as well as a simple drinks spread. Mimosas made with guava or pineapple purée and some bubbly are refreshing alongside her spice-forward cooking. “I always do a citrus water just because we always have those people who don’t drink,” she explains. “I’ll take the stems from the basil or the husks from the pineapple and I’ll boil them a little, strain it, and throw it in the water with some fresh lemon or lime.” At a party where jerk reigns supreme, even the water must have flavor.