One of the best known and loved Jamaican dishes, jerk chicken is quite literally packed full of flavour and brilliant for a barbecue if you're having one!
In the town near to where I live, there is a Caribbean Carnival every year which I like to visit with my family. Members of the local community organise the most fantastic parade full of absolutely amazing home made carnival outfits around the city, and there are all kinds of stalls including many selling traditional Caribbean foods and drinks.
A helping of jerk chicken from one of the stalls from an enormous barrel-shaped barbeques smoking away, together with some curry goat from a huge, simmering pot, rice and peas, and salad on the side has become a must, washed down with the milk of a fresh young coconut - its top skillfully hacked off by a young man with a machete, and replaced with a straw for drinking it with... sitting on the grass in the sunshine with the family, eating it and getting sticky fingers with the sound of reggae music in the background... Summer bliss! And what's more, having eaten it so often I'm completely happy that I've really nailed the flavours of the marinade in this recipe, so I hope you enjoy it too!
Jerk chicken is traditionally hot and spicy, and this is no exception - however, you can easily tone it down by reducing the amount (or type) of chillies. I use four (de-seeded) scotch bonnet chillies in my marinade which is nice and spicy, but not blow-your-head-off-inedible (my daughter eats it quite happily, and she is the 'baby-mouth' of the family!) - tone this down to one for a mild to medium spice, or just use half to one large red chilli (de-seeded) for a really mild version if you're not a fan of heat. I highly recommend using gloves to prepare scotch bonnet chillies, or you WILL feel the burn (and not just on your fingers, if you're not careful!!!).
I like to make up a batch of this (you can always freeze in portions for future use, or simply halve the recipe), and I like to use chicken legs (as in the whole leg including the drumstick and the thigh) for flavour, with the skin on to keep everyone happy as it crisps up beautifully. One per person is generally enough, and they're an economical choice too (or you can buy mixed boxes of seperate drumsticks and thighs if you can't get whole legs). If you want to make a skinny version, use chicken breasts instead, with the skin off and cook for less time.
Serves up to 12, easily halved (or just freeze marinade you don't want yet). The marinade is also fantastic with pork. Requires marinating overnight (for one to two days, it's up to you).
For the calorie counters: A typical leg (250g before cooking) roasted, and then skin removed, boneless, (127g) contains approximately 252 calories. A typical boneless, skinless chicken breast is approximately 110 calories per 100g (so one from a 450g pack of four would be 124 calories). A twelth of the marinade is 75 calories - although if you skim off all the fat from the juices, reduce this by about 35 calories, and if you don't pour the juices over your portion you probably only need to count 20 maximum for the marinade on top of the meat. [Calories in square brackets]
- 12 full chicken legs with skin on, or equivalent portions (or use less and freeze excess marinade - there's probably enough marinade for 18 legs, if you want to stretch it) - about 3kg. OR use chicken breasts for a lower calorie option if you prefer, and reduce the cooking times. [Aproximately 252 calories per serving for leg meat or 124 calories for breast meat per portion]
- 1 bunch spring onions (scallions - about six) [21 calories]
- 1 medium onion 
- 3 inch knob of ginger 
- 6 garlic cloves 
- 4 scotch bonnet chillies (or less to taste) 
- 2 tbsp fresh, young thyme leaves (don't worry about stalks if very young and tender shoots), or 2 tsp dried thyme 
- Juice of 2 limes (60ml) 
- 2 tbsp vinegar (white wine, or apple cider etc.) 
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free) 
- 50ml oil (e.g. sunflower, or other neutral oil) 
- 1.5 x 15ml tbsp ground allspice (aka pimento) 
- 2 tsp ground cinammon 
- Generous grating of nutmeg 
- 60g soft dark brown sugar (you could use rapadura) 
- 1 tsp ground black pepper 
- 3 tsp salt (or to taste)
- Food processor or blender
(See instructions in brackets in italics for Thermomix times and speeds)
You could do this by hand, if you don't have a food processor, by finely grating the garlic and ginger, grating the onion, and finely chopping the spring onions, thyme and chilli before mixing with the other ingredients. However, a food processor will save you some time.
1) Peel the onion, ginger and garlic, and any tired outer leaves from the spring onions, as necessary. Ensure the spring onions are rinsed of any grit (especially from inside the green tops), trim both ends keeping all of the fresh green parts, and cut into 3cm lengths. Slice the ginger into 'coins' and cut the onion into a few large chunks. Preferably wearing gloves, de-seed the scotch bonnet chillies, and roughly chop.
2) Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, spring onions, and fresh thyme leaves to the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped (Thermomix - drop onto running blades / Speed 8. N.B. Be careful to avoid any bits of chilli jumping out at you, by making sure you're shielding yourself while dropping them in - I hold a plastic plate over the top while I'm dropping everything in - also, be aware there may be some chilli fumes coming out as it chops them, which can be a bit hot if you're sensitive to that kind of thing!!). Scrape down.
3) Add all of the rest of the marinade ingredients and blitz until it all comes together into a relatively smooth 'sauce' consistency (Thermomix - turn slowly up to Speed 8 / 30 seconds, then scrape down and process again for 20 seconds / Speed 9). If you're a brave soul, you can have a taste - however it will taste VERY hot at this point although this is not an indication of how hot the chicken will taste after marinating and cooking, or how hot the cooking juices will taste, so don't worry - it is mellowed and diluted by the time you eat it! If you like, you can reserve a few tablespoons, and add to some barbeque sauce to make a spicy sauce to serve with it.
4) Prepare your chicken portions - for whole legs, slash through the thickest part right down to the bone - twice on the thigh, and once on the drumstick is my preference - then (wearing gloves, or massaging in a food bag - I split mine between two medium sized re-sealable food bags and pour half of the marinade into each) rub in the marinade. Leave to marinade overnight, or for up to two days.
5) Cook the chicken! You could cook it entirely on a barbeque, which if the heat was medium-ish would take around 30 to 40 minutes, or you can cook it in a tray in the oven (my preference) and then finish off on the barbeque or under the grill, to crisp up the skin - this has the advantage of giving you delicious juices which can then be poured over when serving. To do this, preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180C / 160C fan oven and arrange the chicken portions in a single layer in a large tray or dish along with all of the marinade / juices. Cook for around 45 minutes to an hour until cooked through, and then carefully pour off the juices into a jug (easiest to remove the chicken first!), and finish off the chicken on the barbecue, turning a few times, until the skin is crispy and a little charred in places, for a deliciously smokey flavour (or alternatively under a nice hot grill / broiler). Skim off any fat floating on the juices, taste, and add salt if necessary then serve alongside the chicken for people to help themselves to if they wish.
6) Serve with your choice of 'rice and peas' (see here for my recipe), fresh salad, fried plantain slices, Jamaican fried dumplings - or for low carbers, go for some cauli-rice and peas instead - and don't forget the hot pepper sauce on the side for the die-hard chilli lovers!
You can cook and/or barbeque the chicken ahead of time and refrigerate for up to two days, then re-heat in the oven to serve (or eat cold, of course!) - ensure the chicken is heated up thoroughly if you're doing this. If you're going to do this and refrigerate the juices, don't bother to skim them as you will be able to just lift the fat off the top once it has chilled and solidified, before re-heating to serve.
If you're using chicken breasts rather than legs or portions, it will need far less time to cook to avoid drying it out. If you have a meat thermometer / temperature probe, you're looking for it to reach 70C in the thickest part for the breasts to be cooked all the way through.
Love Jamaican food? See here for my curry goat or lamb recipe, here for rice and peas, and here for a delicious, fresh twist on saltfish and ackee made with fresh cod.