The history of jerked foods is fascinating. Jerking is the term for the cooking style and flavor. Jerk chicken just happens to be the most recognizable, but there’s also jerked goat, pork, ox, and vegetables.
The flavors of jerk spice come from a fusion of indigenous Taino cooking and African cusine. In Jamaica, escaped slaves integrated with the Native peoples after the Spanish fled their settlements. The Taino added the aromatics and spices. Allspice and scotch bonnet peppers are native to the island and give a kick. The African cooks introduced pit cooking and used the native pimento wood to give jerk chicken its signature flavor.
Over time, the Atlantic trade introduced more spices to jerk recipes. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, oregano, and thyme all joined in. Every chef has their own secret spice mix but what is essential hot peppers, allspice, and thyme
Jerk “stands” are all over the Caribbean Islands, and especially along Jamaican roadsides. Instead of smell of exhaust fumes, Jamaican roads are perfumed by the smoke emanating from those roadside jerk stands.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- Food Processor or blender
- Instant read thermometer
- Small saucepan or small microwave safe bowl
- Baking: Baking pan with wire rack
- 8 Chicken thighs, skin-on
- 1 large Bunch of scallions, white tips removed
- 2 inch Peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves Garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp Dried thyme
- 2 tbsp Ground allspice
- 5 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, stems removed
- 1 tbsp Salt
- 1 tbsp Black pepper
- 2 tbsp Dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp Soy sauce
- ½ cup Vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp Vinegar
- 2 Limes, juiced
- Marinade – In a food processor or blender, grind all ingredients except chicken into a coarse paste. Slather all over chicken pieces (even under skin, place in a large plastic freezer bag, seal, refrigerate overnight and up-to 24 hours.
- Prep – Remove chicken from refrigerator to bring to room temperature, salt and pepper. Boil marinating liquid in the microwave or a small saucepan.
- Grill – Heat 1 side of grill over high. Cook chicken on cool side of grill, skin side down and close cover for 35 minutes or-so. Flip chicken so skin-side is down, cover, and cook until skin becomes dark brown. If chicken not fully cooked but burning, turn over and lower heat a little. Breasts should be at least 150°F (65°C) and thighs 165°F (74°C). Brush tops with reserved jerk sauce.
- Bake – Place one oven rack near the broiler and one in the middle. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Crumble a sheet of aluminum foil then line a baking sheet with it, Place a wire baking rack on top of the sheet and set aside. Remove the chicken from the marinade and space evenly on the baking sheet. Drizzle leftover marinade over the chicken. Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake until chicken reaches 165°F (74°C), about 30-45 minutes. Move chicken to the top rack and broil for 5 minutes until a char appears. Remove chicken from oven and let rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- Serve – Remove to a serving platter or individually plate and serve hot or warm with rice and beans.
- Remove insides of hot peppers if less heat is desired.
- A large whole cut-up chicken or 6 whole legs may be used as well.
- Use Kosher chicken if available for juicier chicken, especially if chicken breasts are involved.