(with Jerk Marinade Recipe)
Jamaica’s Maroons used peppery jerk seasonings to preserve their meat in the wild. Today, the meat is grilled or smoked with similar peppery jerk seasonings so we might enjoy the wonderful flavors. Chicken and pork are the most popular to jerk, but fish and other meats are seasoned and cooked this way as well. And those-in-the-know claim that the best jerk comes from the parish of Portland, home to Boston Jerk Centre and the Portland Jerk Festival!
Jerk gets its flavor from pimento (allspice) wood. The best jerk-chicken cooks make a bed of wet pimento leaves and sticks on the grill and then place the chicken on it over indirect heat, far away from the hot fire so the wood and leaves don’t burn. The roasting meat absorbs the wonderful pimento flavor and the indirect cooking method produces juicy, mouth-watering chicken.
2 whole chickens, halved (or about 6 to 7 pounds of bone-in breasts or whatever pieces you prefer)
2 limes, halved
2 cups low-sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons freshly ground pimento (allspice)
1 bunch of scallions (green onions), coarsely chopped
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 cloves of peeled garlic, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 Scotch bonnet peppers, de-seeded (substitute an equal number of habaneros or 12 jalapenos)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) white vinegar (or cane or cider vinegar)
1 bunch fresh thyme (or 3 tablespoons dried thyme)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (or 1 tablespoon ground ginger)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) dark rum (optional)
½ cup ketchup
1. Rinse your chicken, pat dry and rub with lime.
2. If using rum, boil it with 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan for 3 minutes.
3. Transfer rum mixture to a blender or a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize everything except the ketchup and chicken until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a non-metal bowl and let it sit for 1 hour to blend the flavors. (You can thin out the marinade by adding lime or orange juice or water, if necessary.) Don’t be alarmed if you think the flavor is harsh when first mixed; it will mellow as the meat cooks.
4. Reserve about ½ cup of the sauce to use as a table sauce (to put on the chicken after it’s cooked). Mix in the ketchup; cover and refrigerate until later.
5. Coat the chicken with the remaining sauce and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours (longer is better).
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F or fire up your barbeque grill (see below).
7. Remove the chicken from the marinade, saving the marinade for basting.
8. If roasting chicken in the oven: Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up. Place a shallow pan of boiling water on the oven floor (add a little vinegar and sugar if you like). Roast the chicken, basting frequently with the sauce, until chicken is completely cooked and the juices run clear when you pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a fork – about 50 minutes.
If grilling chicken on the barbeque: For authentic flavor, build a fire in the grill with a combination of coals and pimento (allspice wood). If you don’t have pimento wood, you can substitute hickory or another aromatic wood, or simply use all charcoal. Place chicken, skin side down, on the grill over indirect heat. Cover, and grill until the chicken is cooked through, turning and basting every 15 minutes or so – for about 1 ½ to 2 hours (50 minutes over a hotter grill). Adjust the heat if it is browning too quickly - you don’t want it to dry out; it should be tender and juicy.
9. Cut each chicken half into pieces and serve with the table sauce you made earlier. (The sweetness of the table sauce smoothes out the spicy taste of the chicken.) In Jamaica, you will find Jerk Chicken served with Festival.
Notes: If you want the best of both worlds, you can partially cook the chicken on the grill, searing and charring it, and finish roasting it in the oven.
This Jerk Marinade can be made the day before and refrigerated.