Aug 10, 2008
Here's a series of recipes that consitute a superb Jamaican-style
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs
I had the pleasure of visiting the north coast of Jamaica in 2007 and got to taste some fantastic cooking in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, including the spicy, smoky jerk chicken that’s as close to the taste of the original barbacoa as you can get. Jerk Centres are everywhere, and each one has its own distinctive style. The common flavours are extreme chili heat and intense smoke – the heat derived from the infamously fiery habanero or scotch bonnet chili and the smoke coming from pimento wood, which has a sharp, mesquite-like aroma. The pimento tree berry is known outside of Jamaica as allspice, which is another of the key flavours of any jerk seasoning.
I’m using skinless chicken thighs here because the slow cooking technique tends to make chicken skin rubbery. If you leave the skin on, finish the dish by crisping the skin side of the chicken pieces over medium direct heat.
Note: The habaneros make this quite hot. If you want a milder jerk, substitute jalapenos or serranos. In any case, wear vinyl gloves when you’re handling them and watch not to get any in your eyes!
For the marinade:
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups green onion, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp|22.5 mL fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
1 or 2 habanero chilis, chopped
2 tsp|10 mL whole Jamaican allspice, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan and then finely ground (or pre-ground allspice if you don’t want to fuss)
1/2 tsp|2 mL ground cinnamon
1 tsp|5 mL freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp|5 mL freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp|10 mL sugar
1 tsp|5 mL kosher salt
3 Tbsp|45 mL neutral flavored cooking oil like canola or corn oil
2 Tbsp|30 mL cider vinegar
1 tsp|5 mL of browning (liquid caramel – if you don’t have any, use 1 Tbsp|15 mL dark soy sauce or liquid gravy seasoning like Kitchen Bouquet or Bovril
a splash of Appleton Estate dark rum
4 lb|1.8 kg skinless chicken thighs (or one chicken cut into parts)
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend thoroughly. Reserve about 1/3 of the mixture and set aside.
Put the chicken in a lasagna pan or large baking dish and pour one cup|250 mL of the marinade over the chicken. Move the chicken pieces around so they are covered completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 or 4 hours or overnight, turning once or twice to make sure the pieces stay coated evenly.
Prepare your smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 200–220˚F/95–100˚C. Just before you’re ready to put the chicken on, toss one chunk of mesquite (or pimento wood if you can get it) on the coals. Place the chicken pieces on the cooking grate and smoke for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, basting regularly with the remaining marinade, until the temperature at the thickest part of the biggest piece reads 160˚F|71˚C. (At this point, if you’re using chicken with skin on, you can crisp it up on a medium grill.) Remove from the cooker and let rest, lightly tented in foil, for five minutes. Serve with Coconut Beans and Rice and Jamaican Cole Slaw (see recipes below).
Alternative grilling method: If you want to cook the chicken on a gas or charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect low-medium heat (about 250˚F|120˚C) and cook as above, using mesquite as a flavoring agent if you like. At the end of the cooking time, raise the temperature of the grill to medium and crisp up the chicken pieces for a few minutes over direct heat.
Jamaican-style Dry Jerk Seasoning
Classic jerk is made with a wet marinade and takes time to prep and more time to marinate your meat. This rub gives chicken, pork or snapper – or whatever else you’re grilling – a classic Jamaican flavor without any fuss.
2 Tbsp|30 mL granulated onion
2 Tbsp|30 mL dried onion flakes (get flakes that aren’t too big)
1 Tbsp|15 mL ground dried thyme
1 Tbsp|15 mL kosher salt
2 tsp|10 mL ground allspice
1/2 tsp|5 mL freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp|5 mL ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp|15 mL sugar
2 tsp|10 mL freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp|10 mL cayenne or chipotle powder
1 1/2 Tbsp|22.5 mL dried chives
Note: Double or quadruple this recipe so you have some on hand. It’s super easy to make a great jerk marinade simply by whizzing 1/2 cup|125 mL of this rub in a food processor with a splash of cooking oil, a chopped habanero, a chopped onion and some chopped scallions.
Jamaican Cole Slaw
This recipe, adapted slightly from the excellent Jerk From Jamaica cookbook by Helen Willinsky (I’ve added raisins), is a superb side. If you want to serve it with something other than jerk, substitute your favorite rub for the Dry Jerk Seasoning.
4 cups|1 L shredded purple cabbage
3/4 cup|185 mL grated carrots
1/4 lb|125 g golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachios almonds or anything else you like)
1/2 cup|125 mL mayonnaise
1 Tbsp|15 mL cider vinegar
1 Tbsp|15 mL Jamaican-Style Dry Jerk Seasoning
Combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss. Cover and chill for at least an hour and toss again just before serving.
Jamaican Rice and Beans
In Jamaica this dish is a staple. Jamaicans call it rice and peas, but it often features red kidney beans so I’ve renamed it to avoid confusion. The creamy, sweet richness of the coconut milk helps make this dish a perfect complement to jerk chicken or any spicy grilled meat.
2 14-oz/398-mL cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz/398-mL can coconut milk
2 thick slices double-smoked bacon, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 habanero chile (whole – do not chop)
2 cups|500 mL long grain white rice
2 cups boiling water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a frying pan, sauté the chopped bacon until it’s starting to brown but is not yet crispy. Drain off the excess fat and set the bacon aside.
In a large saucepan combine the beans, coconut milk, bacon, green onion, thyme and the habanero. Cook over medium-high heat just until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the hot water and stir in the rice. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to low and cook without disturbing for about 25 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff before serving and don’t forget to remove the habanero so it doesn’t surprise anyone!