Monday, 22 April 2013

Jerk Chicken for Sweethearts

I love my friend Paul. He is sweet, wise, funny and totally bad-ass. We call him the King of Imps, because I am sure fairies all over the world bow down to his awesomeness.

I wanted to make him dinner for his birthday, and he told me he wanted jerk chicken. I had never cooked jerk chicken before, so he knew he was going to be my culinary lab rat, but he was game, and so was I! I bought a beautiful, big organic chicken, and got to work!

Jerk spice is a Jamaican rub or pasty marinade that is used on chicken and pork. And it is SPICY! I often cook with scotch bonnets, those very, very hot chili peppers (and yes, they are often red... sorry, nerd of the 90's had to make that joke...) but this recipe actually calls for their volcanically hot seeds to be included in the marinade...

I usually stay away from the seeds, because, they are terribly spicy, so much so that they will irritate your skin, and contaminate everything they come into contact with. Always handle them with gloves (or sandwich bags over your hands, like I do, cuz I am too dumb to get cooking gloves) or live to regret it!

Besides scotch bonnets, the other traditional ingredients that find their way in jerk spice are garlic, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme and scallions. I added ground ginger to give it a slightly different kind of heat (and because I am a ginger addict), some lime juice, molasses and olive oil to get all these spices to "gel" together in a nice, thick marinade. The mixture made my eyes water! But Jamaican food is often extremely spicy, because, oddly, when you live in tropical climates, eating spicy food will reduce your own body temp, thus making the sweltering heat more tolerable. Weird, I know, but if it works...

This recipe can be cooked on a grill, but I roasted it in the over, because I do not have a barbecue on my balcony just yet (someday... someday soon!) and because it's quite simple and not too messy.

1 (5-to-6 pounds) whole chicken, cut in half down the middle (I got my butcher to do that for me; he rocks!)

1/2 cup malt vinegar (or white vinegar)
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 Scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros), with seeds, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons ground allspice
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons molasses
1 lime, juiced

6 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

Put the vinegar, rum, hot peppers, onion, scallions, garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, molasses and lime juice into a blender. Pulse until mostly smooth.

Poke the chicken with a knife to nick the skin a few times. Place the chicken in a large freezer bag, or in a large roasting pan or baking dish. Pour the jerk paste onto the chicken pieces and coat well. Seal the bag or cover the chicken in the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the marinade bag or pan. Put the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the reheated marinade with the ketchup and soy sauce and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place chicken halves in a rimmed baking pan, skin side up.

Roast until the chicken halves are cooked through, about 60 minutes, basting with the marinade occasionally. The chicken is done when the juices run clear when a knife tip is inserted into both the chicken breast and thigh (for those with meat thermometers, that's about 165-170°F for the breast and 180-185°F for the thigh). Transfer the chicken to a platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with rice and the sauce.

While the strength of the marinade scared me a little as I was making it, I was very happy (and relieved) to discover that once cooked, the meanness of the scotch bonnets' bite was gone, leaving behind a spicy (but not overwhelming) and complex flavor. The chicken was very tender and juicy, and the sauce made from the marinade was lip-smacking good! For a first-timer at jerk chicken, I was very pleased with the results, and so was the birthday boy!

I am not very good at carving whole chickens and always need help with cutting the damn thing into portions. If you are like me, you could simply use the equivalent quantity of prepared (and already separated) chicken breasts and legs: marinate them just as you would with the whole chicken, but be very careful not to overcook it when you proceed to the roasting. Meat with the bone in takes longer to cook, so de-boned chicken will only take 30 to 45 minutes to cook through. You could also use the marinade on pork or lamb roast!

Enjoy this delicious, spicy chicken with some super-cold light beer, or a well-chilled white wine, to prevent your mouth from catching fire. And don't be afraid of giving it a shot: it's wonderful and not spicy enough to make you cry as you eat. Which is always a good sign ;-)

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