Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jerking Around

I fell in love with Jerk Chicken a few years ago when I was in Jamaica. Notice how I didn’t write ‘I fell in love with Jamaica’, nope, just its chicken. That’s not to say, that Jamaica isn’t a great place. I’m sure it is. But Negril during spring break is not the best exposure to Jamaica and all it has to offer. In fact spring break Negril only offers 2 for 1 drink specials and reggae at 7am.

I’m just not that kind of spring breaker. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed going out for a walk at 6:30am to watch kids stumble home, visit the bar as soon as it was open for a breakfast pick-me-up, and then pass out on a chaise lounge with daiquiri spilled on their chests - only to be awoken later to sun poisoning. Good times. I actually tried to lobby a visit to Prince Edward Island for the Anne of Green Gables tour, but I was voted down by some of my other travel companions. Perhaps Charlottetown needs to host some kind of Foam Party…..

At any rate, the jerk chicken was by far one of the highlights of the trip. There were a few vendors grilling butterflied chickens on the beach, along with sliced fruit from a neighboring vendor, that we made a meal out of several times. It was amazing to sit on a balcony, picking at the chicken, and licking the spicy charred sauce off of my fingers.

And since I am dreaming of warmer weather and trying to revel in as much sunlight as possible these days, I thought it might be nice to try and recreate this experience in our backyard in Maine. I hadn’t tried to make a jerk sauce before, so I scoured cookbooks and the internet for recipes. They all seemed fairly similar, with such variables as how many scotch bonnets and other seasonings were included.

Joe and I don’t have a high tolerance for scalding heat in spices, so I decided to substitute the peppers for other ingredients. (And I may have forgotten to buy the peppers at the grocery store, but that is another matter.) Most recipes I found called for 4-5 scotch bonnets, which made my eyes water just thinking about how hot that would be. But if that’s your thing - go for it. I also liked the addition of cinnamon and allspice into the mixture as well as the heat from some pepper.

I only let this marinate on the chicken for about six hours, but most of the recipes recommend letting it sit overnight to help develop the flavors. I had some dried chipotle peppers in the pantry that used to help impart some heat, as well as red pepper flakes. But I’m sure any kind of chile would be fine, depending on your heat tolerance.
Grilled Jerk Chicken
As adapted from Gourmet May 2002

For the Marinade

3 scallions, roughly chopped white and light green parts only
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 dried chipotle chiles, stems removed but seeds included
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/4 c fresh lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
3 Tb soy sauce
4 Tb olive oil
1 Tb salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

For the Chicken
1 4-5lb chicken, or enough chicken pieces to equal about 4 or 5 pounds.

Combine the scallions, onion, and garlic into a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times until they are in a fine dice.

Add dried chiles, lime juice, zest, soy sauce, oil and other spices. Process until the mixture is completely combined. It shouldn’t be too pasty, or too runny, just about the consistency of a half melted milkshake.

Butterfly the chicken and place in a doubled zip lock bag (so the bones don’t poke through, I use two bags), or place in a shallow dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken and rub to ensure full coverage.

Be sure to turn the chicken at least once while it is marinating. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours or longer if you remember to start the night before.

When you are ready to grill the chicken, remove it from the marinating receptacle and reserve some of the marinade for basting.

Grill the chicken skin side down first, turning and basting as necessary. The marinade will turn black, but that does not mean it is burnt. Check the chicken to be sure it’s done before serving, and let it rest before cutting.

Serve the chicken alongside tropical fruits or grilled vegetables. And I think it’s best eaten with your fingers.

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