- Every family has a secret ingredient or technique which they incorporate to make this dish their own. Consider my recipe to be one such variation.
The mere thought of jerk seasoned chicken brings visions of spicy, hot, sweet, sour and smokey goodness which many of us have come to enjoy. I have been making jerk chicken for years now with great results, but for this write-up, I wanted something familiar, yet different.
Let me make the first disclaimer right on the outset – I have never been to Jamaica, or had this dish in another Caribbean country ever (although I have been to one and will be hopefully making a trip to Jamaica soon)! In order to overcome this built-in disadvantage, I have been reading and researching some great home and pro chefs works and also trying out this dish whenever I got a chance to. Perhaps it is a cover to my experimentation, that households in Jamaica never all do the same thing when it comes to making this dish. Every family has a secret ingredient or technique which they incorporate to make this dish their own. Consider my write-up to be one such variation.
I used a large 7-8 lbs heritage style chicken from a local farmer with who I have an arrangement for special chicken raised without any corn, soy, pastured out in the open and fed a lot of fresh, farmer grown greens. A thing I noticed is that in the Caribbean, this dish is typically made by smoking the chicken on top of pimento wood, which is available online, but I did not take that trouble and used mesquite wood charcoal lumps instead.
For this recipe, there are two big no-nos for me — 1. Cutting the chicken into small pieces before marinating and grilling them 2. Putting the chicken directly over a hot metal grill or hot wood fire. Both of these mistakes can turn otherwise succulent meat into a stiff, dried out and chewy mess. If you are going through all the trouble of making a jerk marinade from scratch and grilling/smoking the chicken, why would you jeopardize all that hard work by not bringing in the same passion and detail to the grilling stage as well? Also, the chicken has died once already – please don’t kill it again by burning it.
I chose to spatchcock the chicken by cutting down the middle of the breasts, leaving the backbone intact and putting pressure on the two open sides, allowing the chicken to get flattened. This helps in two ways – 1.A larger mass allows for the moisture to stay in the chicken 2. By opening the chicken up completely, both the skin and insides of the chicken cook out very well, not permitting any hot spots or any uncooked zones in the chicken. See the attached pics showing the dressed chicken.
You may have seen some home cooks and even pro-chefs adding sugar to the marinade. Sugar begins to caramelize above 300 degrees F, and the dish is certainly going to have to be cooked above that temperature. With sugar in the marinade, I imagine the surface of the chicken will get charred before the meat has had a chance to cook. The result is that in order to cook the chicken well, one may have no choice but to continue to burn the outside surface. The results of doing this cannot be good.
Lastly, I chose to add pineapple in the marinade because, in addition to bringing a feel of the Caribbean islands to the dish, pineapples contain an enzyme named Bromelain which acts as a tenderizer of meats. Moreover, pineapple adds just the right amount of sweetness and tanginess to the dish, which really help bring some familiar flavors of the classic form of this dish. A word of caution: Pineapple tends to soften the meat texture too much past 4 hours at room temp and 6-8 hours in the fridge. Due to this, I prefer to add pineapple puree to the marinade the day of the grilling itself, following a 24-hour marination process. Please add the pineapple puree to the marinated chicken about 4 hours prior to the grilling (leaving the pineapple added chicken to continue to marinate, this time at room temp.
Category: Entrée (Non-Veg)
Difficulty: Moderate, for someone who cooks regularly
One medium to large chicken (6-8 lbs). Wash and pat dry the chicken without removing the skin, then spatchcock the chicken (see above). Make slits in the chicken without cutting through the skin. Rub salt, freshly crushed black peppers, some crushed red chili pepper powder and drizzle 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar all over the skin side of the chicken.
Prepare the Jerk Marinade
1 1/2 Tablespoon dried onion flakes
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
1 Teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ tablespoon cinnamon powder
2 Tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
2-1/2 Tablespoons crushed Calabria chili in oil or 2-3 chopped cherry-bomb peppers.
One Cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
10-12 Whole black peppers
10-12 Allspice berries
One or two Scotch Bonnet Peppers (per heat tolerance)
One Habanero Pepper
Pineapple – 1-1/2 cup chopped fresh and ripe (use the bottom half of the pineapple)
2 Fresh red Thai chilies
Garlic cloves, peeled – 3/8 cup
Veg Mayo – 3 tbsp
Olive oil – ½ cup (doesn’t have to be extra-virgin)
Fresh lime juice from 1-1/2 limes
2-1/2 Tablespoon — Coriander Seeds – toasted on a medium-hot cast iron skillet
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg spice (use the whole nutmeg freshly powdered)
2 Tbsp chicken bouillon powder
4 medium Shallots
2-3 Inch Ginger peeled and cut into chunks
Salt as desired
Blend the marinade ingredients (except the pineapple) into a smooth, pasty consistency in a high-speed blender such as VitaMix. Add no water to help with the grinding. Marinate all of the chicken with this spice paste, and apply liberally both over and under the skin. Cover the marinated chicken using cling-wrap and put it in the fridge for overnight marination, preferably for 24 hours. Save any marinade on the side.
Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge 4 hours before putting the chicken on the grill, add fresh ripe pineapple chunks pureed up coarse to the leftover marinade and apply, rub into the marinated chicken all over. Set the chicken aside for 3-4 hours at room temperature before grilling. Such a two-step process helps prevent over tenderization of the chicken from pineapple’s bromelain enzyme.
Grill the Chicken
Pierce the spatchcocked chicken using 2-3 heavy, metal skewers.
Set up your Charcoal grill for this, because that’s where the flavors shine.
If you have pimento wood chunks, soak these for an hour before grilling the chicken and add the soaked pimento chips right at the start of the grilling.
Make sure to not allow the hot charcoal fire or heat to hit the chicken directly. I use a Komodo-style ceramic grill, and I place a lava plate to act as a heat barrier between the fire and the chicken. If you don’t have such a grill, you can grill the chicken on the non-direct side of a kettle grill as well, just as long as the chicken is not hit with direct fire.
If you’re using the Kamado set-up, using two bricks placed over the stone, place the skewered chicken and cooked at indirect heat of 430-440 degrees F for 30 minutes before turning the chicken. Before turning the chicken brush some leftover marinade to the chicken, followed by some oil.
Grill the other side for about 15-20 minutes more, the times will depend on the size of your chicken.
When the chicken is almost done, it is now time for some sugary treatment.
Watch for fire flare-ups.
The final touch
Add some soaked pimento or other wood chips to a low-medium charcoal fire.
Cut the cooked chicken into pieces per your preference.
In a tray, brush the almost cooked chicken a mix of the following –
- Coconut Molasses or English Treacle or Regular Molasses – 1 cup
- 2 Oz. Jamaican Spiced Rum
- Honey – 4 tbsp
- Your favorite powder from jerk seasoning (store-bought or home-made)
Place the chicken over medium-high indirect fire (watching for accidental flare-ups, given that rum has alcohol) or use low-heat embers and direct fire. Let the grill fill with smoke to allow the chicken to get thoroughly infused with smokey pimento flavors (if using). Check the chicken for doneness after about 5-7 minutes and sprinkle the dry jerk seasoning over the chicken before serving these hot off the grill. Chop the chicken into serving pieces of your preference and serve piping hot. The tears you will see in your guests’ eyes will either be from the heat of the scotch bonnet peppers or will be tears of happiness.
Ansh Sarkari has varied interests which range from gourmet cooking to foraging for wild mushrooms, photography to knife sharpening to politics. He researches foods from around the globe and using his nearly four decades of food-centric travels, he has amassed keen insights into food identities of various nations and cultures, and how some even may correlate. He is always tinkering with techniques, spices and uses his deep expertise in all things fire to try to elevate foods of all kinds. Ansh lives in the Midwest with his wife and two grown-up children. Find him on Facebook and Instagram