Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Normally I write those long winded introductions which make you question whether this is actually a food blog or the inane rantings of a possibly friendless manic depressive. Today, I will spare you such things because we’re talking about jerk chicken. I mean, really, it’s JERK CHICKEN. I love jerk chicken. I love jerk chicken almost as much as I love popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys sprinkled on top of rainbow sherbet (don’t judge). All the time that I would generally spend on my musings and mental propensities can -and should- officially be channeled into JERK CHICKEN, and the consumption thereof.
This chicken can totally jerk me around.
Jerk chicken delights me so much that Mike could have called me his buffalo soldier woman without getting a chin full of gravel.
This chicken reminds me that I should make jerk more often. Perhaps daily. Maybe more.
Since I live in Ontario, where barbecuing is not really an option for 3/4 of the year (never mind you brave souls who bare the cold and shattered stoves by doing some BBQ in the winter), I had to improvise. And hey, guess what? Jerk chicken is fantabulous in the oven. Seriously. So if you aren’t the barbecuing type, or if the weather makes outdoor activities impermissible, let the jerk inside. Really. Your oven will do you proud.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 6 bone-in chicken pieces (a mixture of breast and leg+thigh is nice) *
- 2 tbsp whole allspice
- 6 cloves garlic
- 6 green onions
- 1 tsp fresh nutmeg *
- 1 tbsp thyme
- 2-3 scotch bonnet peppers **
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce***
- 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp brown sugar ****
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
*If you can find bone-in skinless chicken that will make your job easier, but it’s really up to you. Personally, I find skinning chicken to be about as enjoyable as cleaning slimy hair nests out of my bathtub…but maybe that’s just me.
**Fresh nutmeg is a firm oval nut, and when it’s finely grated the flavor is savory, slightly sweet, and intoxicatingly exotic. But hey, we don’t all have fresh nutmeg to grate, right? Ground nutmeg is fine.
** Scotch bonnet peppers are also called Jamaican peppers, Bahama Mamas, Bahamian peppers, and Martinique peppers. They’re very hot. If you can’t find scotch bonnets, you could substitute habanero peppers, although the flavor is slightly different. If you want a medium heat, use 2 peppers and you may want to scoop out the seeds and ribs. Leaving them in will make the dish spicier. If you’re a spicy jerk fan, use 3 peppers – with the seeds and ribs if you’re feeling really frisky.
*** Instead of just soy sauce you could add 2 tbsp of soy and 2 tbsp of dark Jamaican rum. Frankly, I like to add rum to jerk, but since I usually drink our rum as fast as it enters the house, it never makes it into a marinade.
**** The brown sugar lends an alluring subtle sweetness to an otherwise spicy, smoky dish. My favorite jerks are always just a little bit sweet, but if you’re all about the savory jerk that doesn’t give you a saccharine smile, you could omit this…even if the thought of that makes me sad.
Put the allspice berries into a mortar and pestle and pound them until their spirits are suitably crushed. Don’t worry, they’ll find redemption very shortly in their next life.
Peel the garlic and cut off the ends. Chop them into quarters and put the pieces into a blender or mini food processor. Cut the stems from the scotch bonnet peppers, slice them in half, and remove the ribs and seeds if you’re looking to control the heat. Slice the entire length of the green onions (white and green parts) into 1 inch lengths. Add the peppers and onions into the processor along and pulse the mixture until it is relatively well chopped.
Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, add in the soy and oil, and give it a quick whiz until it’s rather soupy.
Finally, crumble in the bay leaf, add the allspice, dried herbs, sugar and salt and puree the mixture until it’s relatively combined and looks like a loose brownish pesto.
And yes, you could have put this all in the food processor and done it in one go. I’m just slightly retentive when it comes to making sure that there aren’t any lumps and chunks, and I find that sometimes my food processor misses, say, a half clove of garlic every here and there. But really, it’s your call.
If your chicken has skin, well, take it off. I hate doing this. I really, really hate skinning things. Personally, I enjoy the fact that I live in a part of the world where I can generally buy my animal products slaughtered, skinned, cleaned and deboned. Born 1oo years earlier, I would totally be the only vegetarian pioneer in my hamlet.
I also like to try and clean as much fat off of the chicken as possible. We don’t need the fat for flavor, that’s what the jerk marinade is for.
Put the chicken parts into a large freezer bag, pour in the jerk sauce, seal it up, and then shake and wiggle the whole thing around until every piece has a nice coating of marinade on it.
Tuck the bag in your fridge for at least 4 hours (or overnight, if possible) so that the chicken can absorb the flavor.
When the chicken has had a chance to mellow down easy with the Jamaican jerk, take it out for half an hour and let it come to room temperature. While it does, preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Place a rack on top of each of 2 baking sheets and spray them with non-stick spray, or wipe them with a little bit of oil. Place the chicken pieces bone-side down on the rack, making sure that they aren’t touching. Arrange the legs on one and breasts on the other.
Put the sheet with the legs in first and let them cook for just 5-7 minutes before putting in the sheet with the breasts (the legs take slightly longer to cook than the breasts). Let these cook together for 10 minutes (the legs have now been in for 15-17 minutes) before turning the heat down to 325ºF. Keep things cooking at this temperature for another 25 minutes and then use a meat thermometer to check the temperature from the fattest part of one of the breasts or thighs. It should register 165ºF – 168ºF, and the temperature will continue to rise as it rests – which is good, because chicken thighs should reach an internal temperature of 170ºF. If the internal temperature hasn’t climbed that far, put the chicken back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes and then check again.
When the chicken has been cooked and you take it out of the oven, tent it loosely with tin foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Jerk chicken can be served with Jamaican rice and peas (which is a total lie, they aren’t peas at all but rather pigeon ‘peas’ which are a dry bean…and you can substitute black beans if you feel the yen) and/or fried plantain. Some fresh tomato wedges and sliced scallion to garnish, and you totally have yourself a meal.
This jerk chicken is smoky and sweet, spicy as hades come hither (I use all 3 peppers…ribs and seeds included), and juicily delicious.
Just because the weather outside may be awful, and you may fear that the sun will never come out again, that’s no reason to steer clear of BBQ favorites like jerk chicken. With an oven and a bit of improvisation, it can be a bright (BRIGHT! Bright…) sunshiney day.