If you are in the tourist towns of Jamaica, you will find Jerk everything! It seems like Jamaican Jerk Chicken is highly requested by foreigners or Jamaicans choose to promote it over other cuisines to foreigners. Nonetheless, jerk isn’t something we really cook at home. While it is dubbed Jamaica’s signature spice blend, Jerk food is Jamaican street food. If we want jerk chicken or jerk pork, we usually get it from vendors. It isn’t something I learned to cook in my grandmother’s kitchen and as a matter of fact, I didn’t learn to cook it until I was an adult. The secret spice blend and method of cooking jerk food seemed to die with the men and women who cooked it in the street.
Over the years, people have experimented more with jerk in their homes and may actually cook it a few times a year for their families. It has definitely grown in popularity and the recipes are shared widely.
Here are some key things to know:
The marinade: Jerk loves long layovers. The longer you marinate jerk food, the better it tastes. The marinade is a combination of fresh seasonings like onions, pimento, scallions, garlic and scotch bonnet peppers and dry spices. Making the marinade and seasoning the chicken 24 hours before cooking makes for the best jerk chicken.
The grill vs. the oven: Jamaicans in the diaspora opt to make jerk chicken in the oven during the cold winter months. The taste of jerk is still present because of the spice blend but I don’t believe there is a perfect jerk without smoke. Jerk is typically cooked over pimento wood and pimento leaves and the smoke from each gets into the meat and makes it simply divine. If you can use the grill, always try to. If you can’t, you will still get a pretty decent jerk from the oven. Cook the chicken at a high temperature (350-400 degrees) tented and then finish under the broiler or untented for the last ten minutes of cooking. I cooked this recipe on indirect heat on the grill. I had the coals on one side of the grill and cooked the chicken on the opposite side from the coals. I was able to get the smokiness and heat from the grill without burning the chicken.
Heat and Spice: The typical dried spices in jerk include all purpose seasoning, all-spice, cinnamon, onion powder and paprika. Some spice blends add sugar and salt. The most important thing in jerk is the scotch bonnet pepper. It’s where the sauce gets the heat and the flavor. These peppers can be very hot so watch the amount you add.
Sides: What do we eat with Jamaican Jerk Chicken ? Well in the street, it’s served with a thick and dense bread called Hardough bread. If you are making this at home, you can have it with any of your favorite sides. You do the choosing!
Bread: Check out my Easy White Bread recipe here!
For this recipe you will need:
- 2 whole chickens cut into quarters.
- 5 scallions
- 1/2 of a medium onion
- Handful of thyme
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 8 -10 pimento seeds
- 2 Scotch bonnet peppers (use less if you can't handle the heat)
- 1 tablespoon of ginger
- 1/4 cup of oil
- 2 tbsp of chicken seasoning
- 1 tbsp of Maggi all purpose
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp gravy master or browning
- Cut and rinse chicken. Pat dry and set aside.
- In a blender, add scallions, onion, thyme, garlic, pimento, scotchies, ginger, and oil and blend for about 30 seconds.
- Open the blender and add in powdered seasonings, browning and blend again for about 10 seconds, just to combine.
- Pour blended seasoning mixture onto chicken in a large bowl and rub into the cavities of the chicken. Be sure to get under the skin of the chicken. Massage well until the chicken is properly coated in the mixture. Cover bowl with cling film and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
- Place coals in one half of the grill. Light them and allow them to "catch" or produce a constant steady fire. Prep smoke box with pimento wood chips, light them and place in the grill. Be careful as the box will be very hot.
- Place chicken on the opposite side of the coals and keep the grill covered so the chicken cooks with indirect heat.
- Keep turning chicken so it cooks evenly. Turn the chicken every 8 or so minutes. Cook chicken until it's juices run completely clear after being pierced down to the bone. The chicken should be cooked within 1 hour to 1.5 hours. The cook time will vary based on the size of the chicken. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the chicken is cooked or pierce the chicken down to the bone.
- Once chicken is fully cooked, serve with bread, rice, festival or veggies.
- You may use the remainder of your seasonings from the marinade and boil them in a small amount of water, to use as a baste for the chicken. If the chickens are small enough you may not need to do this as they will cook quickly. If you think your chicken is undercooked but is drying out or burning, use this basting water to assist the cooking process. You can use a baster or a squeeze bottle to “wet” the chicken before turning it each time.