Our first trip outside of the continental US was to Jamaica, many years ago. I had never travelled much outside of my home state and was used to the whole ‘white picket fences’ and ‘everybody has a television’ kind of life. This trip changed all that, and it also brought on my very first case of over the top culture shock. I had never seen such poverty in my life, and I couldn’t figure out how everybody could be so darned happy when many lived in plywood sheds with tin for a roof – but that all became clear very shortly after we arrived. In fact, I think it must be nearly impossible not to be happy there. It is a magical, beautiful, and peaceful place, and the people there could not have been more friendly. The food was incredible, with seafood fresh off the boat every day, and amazing tropical fruits (and drinks by the way) that I’ll never forget. One of my favorite dishes was Jerk Chicken, and here’s my attempt at trying to recreate it at home. The term ‘jerk’ means the meat is either dry rubbed or wet-marinated in a hot spice mixture that includes hot peppers, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme and allspice, among other things depending on who is doing the cooking. It is typically cooked over a wood fire to ensure that irresistible smoky flavor. Traditional Jerk Chicken is made with Scotch Bonnet peppers, but I am a total baby when it comes to anything spicy, so I just used a nice big pinch of red pepper flakes. If you prefer to live on the wild side, please feel free. As we say in Jamaica, “No problem”.
After a few tries (three to be exact), I think the best way to go about grilling this dish is to make sure you brush, spoon, or otherwise get more of the reserved marinade over the chicken. The marinade isn’t all that thick and it tends to kind of slide off during the cooking process, but if you’re vigilant, you’ll end up with a rich, bronze, lacquered finish. Just pour yourself a Red Stripe and hang out around the grill. This is a good scenario, and an excellent way to spend some time.
If you are one of the fearless who will add Scotch Bonnet or other incendiary peppers to this dish, it might be a good idea to temper it a little bit by adding some fresh squeezed lime after it comes off the grill. Another trick I like to use is to serve it over something hearty, like the brown rice with fresh mango chunks and a little fresh thyme. Sound good to you?
There’s also nothing wrong with grabbing it off the grill, piling it on a platter, and eating it with your hands. We must be flexible, and every occasion will require your own judgement in this area.
As our unforgotten friend, Lenworth Jones, who poured an excellent ‘Mellow Mood’ or ‘Yellow Bird’ depending on what the special of the evening was, and also had no problem shimmying up a nearby coconut tree to find the perfect vessel to drink from, often said ‘No Problem’.
Hope you enjoy this one. And thanks so much for reading today. xoxoxo
- FOR THE MARINADE
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 6-8 pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup orange juice
- ¾ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- Red pepper flakes, scotch bonnet peppers (I’ve seen recipes call for anywhere between 2-6 scotch bonnet peppers, but these babies are HOT, so if you aren’t used to them be very careful!!), habanero peppers, or whichever you prefer, depending on your tolerance for heat. I just used a generous pinch of red pepper flakes because I am a big baby.
- FOR THE CHICKEN
- This recipe makes enough marinade for one large whole chicken, or the equivalent in parts.
- You can figure this recipe will marinate 4-6 pounds of chicken pieces.
- TO FINISH
- Fresh lime wedges for after the chicken comes off the grill (Optional).
- FOR THE MARINADE
- In a blender, combine the onion, garlic, brown sugar, orange juice, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, and spices.
- Blend at a very high speed (start slowly and work your way up) until the mixture because totally liquid, meaning the onion has disintegrated. If you don’t do this it’s not the end of the world, but pieces of onion will show up on your finished chicken and it looks better the other way.
- Reserve about ¾ cup of the marinade for later use.
- FOR THE CHICKEN
- Place the chicken pieces in a Zip Lock bag and pour the remaining marinade over the top. Allow to marinate for several hours or overnight is even better.
- When ready to grill, preheat your grill to medium high. Remove chicken pieces from the marinade and place on the grill. Grill until cooked through and meat is 165 degrees for breasts and 175 degrees for dark meat. I like to spoon the reserved additional marinade over the chicken at least three times during the barbecuing, which builds up more flavor in your finished dish.
- NOTE: If you happen to have a smoker or a Trager, this is the perfect recipe for such things. I started the chicken on ‘SMOKE’ on the Trager for 20 minutes, then turned the heat to 325 to finish cooking. If you have a Smoker, you can smoke the chicken for a while first before grilling or baking.
- NOTE: If you aren’t in a position to grill, I’ve also baked this in the oven at 350 until done and it turned out just fine.
- TO SERVE:
- Get it off the grill, give it a squeeze of lime juice if you are so inclined and pile it up on a platter or serve on a bed of brown rice with mango, or whatever you feel like. All will be good.
- SIDE DISHES
- I like to serve this with short grain brown rice that has been tossed with soy sauce and butter (better yet, garlic butter), with some fresh mango pieces tossed in to offset the spice of the chicken.