Ahhh, jerk chicken. One of my favorite dishes. It’s spicy, kind of sweet and when made well should almost melt in your mouth.
Jerk was used as a way to preserve and cook meat and was originally only made with pork. Interestingly, I found that the work “jerk” comes from a Spanish word called “charqui” which means dried meat. This is how we coined the term “jerky” for that awesome, chewy and salty dried meat we can pick up in 711’s or other corner stores or truck stops. Another possible meaning of the word stems from what happens to the meat when you prepare and cook it – you poke it/or jerk it to produce a hole in order to fill it with the spice mixture (which I didn’t do). How about the way you cook it – you ‘jerk’ the meat off the coals. Whatever the derivation all I know is that it’s absolutely delicious! What’s even cooler is that jerk pork’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1655 during the pre-slavery days of West African hunters (the Cormantees) through a group of Jamaican slaves (Maroons) that escaped from the British during the invasion of that year. The Maroons supposedly developed and perfected the jerk as a way to preserve the meat while they lived in the mountains fighting the British troops.
Nowadays, various jerk recipes are passed down from Jamaican family to Jamaican family, but each recipe always includes allspice, hot chilies, salt and various spices and herbs. Traditionally it should be grilled slowly over a wood fire made of pimento (allspice) wood, just to infuse the flavor even deeper into the meat, and continuously basted with the marinade. I enjoy oven-cooking my jerk. If you stick on the broiler for a bit at the end, you can get a bit of crisp on the skin. WHOOOO HOOOOOO… absolutely fabulous! Give it a try yourself – it’s easy. Make it along with a some rice and peas and fried green plantains for the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
Jamaican jerk chicken
Serves 2 to 3
For the chicken and marinade:
2 breasts of chicken, skin on
2 legs of chicken, skin on
2 tablespoons allspice
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 scotch bonnet pepper (or other spicy hot pepper)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup of cilantro (you can substitute 1 teaspoon coriander seed)
Juice of 1 lime
Splash of orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
If you are using allspice berries/seeds and whole cinnamon sticks, grind the spices down with a spice grinder. Then blend all the ingredients together in a blender until smooth (or smooth enough – you’ll have a bit of chunks of garlic and hot pepper). I used the olive oil to make it a wet rub. If you feel like you need more or less, adjust so it’s a thick paste.
Slab this on your chicken (remember to get under the skin if you can!). Wear some gloves if you have ‘em… this marinade contains hot pepper. Allow this to marinate for an hour at least, if you have the time. If you can marinate overnight, even better.
Cook your chicken pieces at 400 degrees F. for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until juices run clear. For the last minute, put on the broiler and allow some of the skin to crisp up a bit. Don’t let the marinade burn!
Rice and peas
1 cup white rice
1 can red kidney beans
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic
1 scallion, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional – I really love garlic)
Saute your onions and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes (keep em a bit crunchy). Add your rice, the garlic powder, scallions and beans. Add the rice and stir all together.
Pour enough chicken stock over your rice that it comes up the width of 2 fingers above the level of the uncooked rice. Bring to the boil and allow to cook down until it reaches the level of the rice. When the chicken stock has reached the level of the rice, stir once, turn your heat to low and cover. Cook on low for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes your rice will be perfect, give it a stir and enjoy.
note: Traditionally, Jamaican rice & pea should be made with coconut milk. Just replace the chicken stock with 1 can of coconut milk plus enough water so that the total amount of liquid follows the “2 finger rule” (see above).
Fried green plantains
2 green plantains
Heat your veggie oil – you want enough to almost cover the plantains.
Peel plantains and cut into slices, about 1 inch thick.
Fry your cut plantains once for about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Smash with a mallet and then fry again for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Drain and season with some salt.
Amy Seponara-Sills blogs at We are Never Full.
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