There are many foods in the world that you instinctively link with certain cultures or areas. When you think of Jamaica, jerk is probably the first food to come to mind.
It might even come to mind before the white sandy beaches or all-inclusive resorts.
When you taste Jerk, whether chicken or pork (even seafood), you'll taste ginger, Scotch Bonnet peppers, thyme, and allspice all at once, culminating in that complex and delicious flavor.
The history of jerk is also fascinating, with the pit-barbecue method generally used for jerk as well as the seasoning itself coming from Africa along with slaves brought by the Spanish and British to Jamaica and other areas of the Caribbean.
Chicken is especially good for jerk. Chicken can be a blank canvas, and jerk is definitely distinctive enough to transform it into something exciting.
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Chicken is easy to find almost everywhere, making this an easy dish to prepare. In the end, it seems a lot harder than it actually is, and you'll come off as an impressive chef to anyone unfamiliar with jerk cooking.
By following some of the key steps like making a great marinade, taking the time to let the flavors develop, and cooking it to perfection, you’ll be on your way to a versatile, delicious, and easy jerk chicken experience in no time.
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2 tablespoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ginger powder
Mix all ingredients together and rub well into protein prior to marinating
5 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon fresh chopped ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks scallion
1 clove fresh garlic
½ teaspoon allspice
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups water
Salt to taste
Place all ingredients except oil and water in a blender and blend to a smooth consistency, adding the vegetable oil and water as needed to adjust the consistency. For best results, set aside for 1-2 hours before use to allow the flavors to meld.
Pro tip: When dealing with dried spices, make the spice mixture in bulk - this will save you work this time when you go to grill the chicken and in the future when you make it again.
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Serves 4; Makes 1 ¼ Cups
1 tablespoon stemmed & finely chopped Scotch Bonnet pepper (about 1 pepper)
2 tablespoons stemmed fresh thyme
1 tablespoon freshly ground allspice (not too fine)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
¾ cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 ½ cups finely chopped scallions (using the white and the green parts)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup soy sauce
¾ cup vegetable oil
Place all ingredients in food processor except soy sauce and oil.
After finely minced or pureed, place in mixing bowl and add soy sauce and oil.
Store in glass jar or clay pot.
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You can buy whole chickens and butcher them, have your meat counter do it, or buy a whole chicken already cut up. Either put it in a resealable bag or a shallow pan, and pour half the marinade over. Massage it in, so that every piece is covered, then repeat with the remaining marinade. Put it in the fridge, either sealed or covered, let it sit overnight.
Method for Seafood (fish, lobster, shrimp)
Place the fish or seafood in the marinade for one hour only. Do not over marinate or it will break down the fibers in the fish and seafood, resulting in a mushy consistency when cooked.
Remove from the marinade and grill at a high temperature until cooked through.
When you’re ready to cook, pull the chicken out and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to start the cooking process, not roast it - that’s what the grill is for.
Put your chicken in the pan. Make sure to choose a pan that is large enough that no chicken overlaps, which would result in underdone or steamed parts.
Bake chicken for 30 minutes, and get your grill ready, making sure it’s hot so you can get a good sear on the chicken. Take chicken out of the oven and sprinkle a little more of the spice mixture you made on it, and brush it with olive oil - this helps keep it from sticking and adds a nice sheen.
Chef’s Note: A great deal of jerk’s flavor comes from pimento wood smoke. For the most authentic jerk flavor without pimento wood, soak ¼ cup whole allspice berries in water for at least 1 hour (preferably overnight). Sprinkle over the coals or flames of the grill right before cooking, and be sure to close the lid to trap the smoky flavor.
Grill for 5 to 10 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not burning, then flip and repeat. The key is to squeeze some lime juice on the chicken, cover loosely with foil, and don’t touch it for at least 10 minutes.
Then you just let it cool off and dig in!
You could shred it and put in on top of baked sweet potatoes with salsa and avocados for a sweet and tangy main dish, or make sandwiches or wraps.
A creative way to use it is to take pizza crusts or naan, use a little jerk sauce (basically a thickened marinade) as a base, and top with jerk chicken, cheese, fajita veggies, and then bake it. Then add avocados to finish it off.
There's a lot you can do with jerk chicken. It's not just limited to traditional dishes. If you're creative with your cooking, the possibilities are truly endless.