When I was first learning to cook, sometime late in high school, I was obsessed with jerk chicken. To be honest, I have no idea where the obsession came from. It was not a common dish in the area of Ohio where I grew up. On the other hand, there was usually someone selling it at Grateful Dead shows. Usually a white guy in a crocheted hat that he probably got from someone who passed out at an earlier show. I went to a lot of Grateful Dead shows, but it was a while before I tasted the real thing.
Later in life, I sought out the smoky chicken burning with the heat of habaneros and redolent with allspice (pimento) and ginger at Caribbean festivals, or, when I finally lived in cities large enough to have thriving Jamaican communities, at the sort of places that did it for real – grilled in half barrels over imported pimento wood. Unless you magically have access to that sort of fuel and grill, you will not be able to perfectly recreate those flavors, but the herbaceous, fiery, smoky heat of this recipe comes close enough to be satisfying, and makes for a great midsummer night’s patio dinner.
Like a lot of the dishes I post that originated in communities not my own, I don’t claim this is authentic. After reading a lot of recipes, and cooking variations of this dish for the last 20 years, I’ve come up with something that tastes like I remember, but uses ingredients I can find at my local market. I serve this with greens braised in coconut milk and vinegar, and this phenomenal Jamaican peas and rice recipe from F&W.
Jerk Chicken ThighsCourse: MainCuisine: JamaicanDifficulty: Medium
Spicy smoky Jerk marinaded chicken thighs.
- Jerk Marinade
2 whole habanero peppers
2 whole green onions, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp whole allspice berries
1 tsp whole black pepper
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
½ cup coca cola
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup white vinegar
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp liquid smoke (optional)
4 Chicken Thighs (boneless skinless, or bone-in skin-on)
- Make Jerk Marinade
- Toast the allspice and black pepper in a dry frying pan until they become fragrant and just begin to smoke.
- Transfer to a blender along with all other ingredients, and process until smooth.
- If you are using a gas grill, you may wish to add liquid smoke to help mimic the flavors of charcoal or wood grilling.
- Marinade and Cook Chicken
- Place the chicken in a plastic storage bag with approximately ¼ cup of marinade per piece. Squeeze out as much air as possible, and seal the bag.
- Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight – keeping in mind that the longer it rests, the spicier the chicken will be.
- Grill over high heat until fully cooked through, turning once – about 6 minutes per side.
- You can adjust heat by adding additional peppers, or by adding cayenne pepper. Omitting habanero will vastly change the flavor of the chicken.
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Cooks Illustrated worked to reproduce the characteristic smokiness of jerk chicken. I haven’t tried it, but it’s worth playing with:
2 Tbs each of water, thyme, rosemary, and allspice berries
1 cup wood chips.
Combine allspice berries, thyme, rosemary, and water in bowl and set aside to moisten for 15 minutes. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips and moistened allspice mixture in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.
FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway. Arrange 1 quart unlit charcoal briquettes in single layer over half of grill. Light large chimney starter one-third filled with charcoal briquettes (2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over unlit briquettes, keeping coals arranged over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.
FOR A GAS GRILL: Place wood chip packet over primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips begin to smoke, 15 to 25 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and turn off other burner(s).
Seems worth checking out once i’m willing to go outside again.