Saturday, January 19, 2013

Caribbean Jerk Chicken

Getting ready for my trip to the Caribbean, I thought I would try a classic Caribbean dish known as Jerk Chicken.  "Jerk" refers both to the spices used in preparation as well as the technique.  While most people associate 'jerk' with Jamaica, the dish was mostly like derived from African ancestry and then modified over hundreds of years as it was prepared in the Caribbean islands.  One new addition to the recipe was likely the Scotch bonnet pepper, which is largely responsible for the heat found in today's Caribbean jerks. The Scotch bonnet is one of the hottest chili peppers around with a heat level similar to the habanero chili pepper, but one not native to Africa.

Jerk seasoning can be dry or wet and used with most any grilled meat; chicken and pork being common in the Caribbean. The ingredients can vary, depending on the cook, but today's recipes generally are a combination of chilis, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, garlic and onions. Jerk seasoning can be either rubbed directly onto meat or blended with a liquid to create a marinade.

While in the islands I'll be grilling the chicken as they traditionally do, but it's snowing in Chicago as I prepare this.  So I'll be making it in the oven instead.  Because of this, I think a wet marinade will be best so it can season the meat more deeply and will brown more readily in the oven.  And since I'm making a Caribbean dish, I believe I will add a bit of dark rum to the recipe.  If you don't want to make the jerk marinade yourself, most grocers carry something similar to this bottle of pre-made sauce.

I'm making this with all chicken dark meat (about 2 pounds of chicken legs and thighs) because you get a better, more moist and flavorful piece of meat, but you can use whatever chicken cuts you prefer or even your favorite cuts of pork.

1/2 cup malt vinegar
10 green onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 Scotch bonnet chiles or habanero chiles with seeds, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons ground allspice
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons water

1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Mix all of the ingredients in the first set above (from the vinegar to the brown sugar).  Place your meat in a bowl and toss with a tablespoon or two of the ingredients.  Place is a zip lock bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.  (If you go with the pre-made sauce in a bottle, use the ingredients above to marinade or a bit of the bottled sauce.)

Boil rum and 2 tablespoons water in small saucepan for 3 minutes.  Transfer rum mixture to blender; add the remaining unused marinade mixture and blend until almost smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in ketchup and soy sauce.

Place the marinated meat in a baking dish prepared with food release.  Baste the meat with the sauce and place in an oven preheated to 350F.  For chicken legs and thighs, cook one hour basting with remaining sauce as necessary.  If chicken starts to become too brown, cover with foil.  Remove foil 10 minutes prior to serving so the skin is more dry.

I'm serving the jerk chicken with a rice dish as they do tend to eat rice and not potatoes in the islands. by the time you read this posting I should be in warm, sunny Caribbean and making another version on the grill.  Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping warm and enjoying cooking!

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