Jerk is a Jamaican cooking style which dry-rubs or marinades meat in a spicy mixture called Jamaican jerk spice.
The primary ingredients to any jerk spice are allspice, a dried unripe berry, and scotch bonnet peppers, a chili similar the habanero but much sweeter.
Other common ingredients found across jerk spice recipes include brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, salt, scallions, and thyme.
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The dark smokey flavors come from cooking the meat above a wood fire. Historically, pimento wood was used for Caribbean cooking.
This recipe calls for using a barbeque, which is a great alternative to those who don’t have a wood stove or fire pit handy. I don’t!
While the cooking methods of using fire have evolved over the year, you’ll often find jerk being made over hardwood charcoal in a steel drum laid horizontally. Essentially, the modern charcoal barbecue.
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Choosing a Rum
As the French saying goes, “The better the wine, the better the dish.” The same philosophy holds true to dishes cooked with rum. If you don’t have rum in stock, head to your nearest liquor store and look at some of the anejos.
Stay away from the big brand names you recognize and spiced rums – at least for this recipe. My favorite rums have been in the $20-$40 range. Look for rums produced in Central America to match the terroir behind the inspirations of the jerk chicken.
Why Is Vinegar Used?
Vinegar takes on an umami quality, bringing in an acidic bite to the dish. With its higher acidic content, sitting somewhere around a pH level of 3, marinating the chicken in the vinegar marinade will break down the proteins, causing the meet to be a lot more tender.
In looking through other jerk chicken recipes, I noticed a lot of recipes called for malt vinegar. This version uses a combination of red and white wine vinegar.
So what’s the deal?
Red wine vinegar is great to use for rich flavor profiles.
White wine vinegar is great for chicken and fish dishes. White wine could be considered to be a bit brighter in flavor, depending on your personal palette.
Based on the combination of chicken and spice ingredients, I wanted to use both to bring out the different nuances in flavors while the chicken was marinating.
If you happen to have a sherry vinegar on hand, by all means use some of that.
Malt vinegar is barely-based, and in my opinion, best used for oily, heavy dishes. Think fish and chips. This jerk chicken recipe is far from oily and will not leave you with that heavy feeling after you’ve finished eating and a strong desire to wash your hands.
There are several great Central American side dishes which pair well with this jerk chicken.
Rice and beans. A staple, I used white rice, black beans, and coconut milk.
Curtido. Lightly fermented red cabbage, with some carrot and scotch bonnet, you’ll want to prepare this a day or two in advance.
Cornbread. For this dish, I made a cornbread and threw in some honey and half a scotch bonnet to keep with the sweet, spicy theme.
Grilled Plantains. With the chicken finished and a hot grill, throw on some sliced plantains for dessert. Protip: They are ripe when the peel is black.
Jerk Chicken Recipe
- 1 Whole chicken Skin on, cut in half, lengthwise
- 1/2 cup Lime juice Freshly squeezed
- Salt and pepper
Jerk Chicken Marinade
- 1/4 cup Red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup White wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons anejo rum
- 2 Scotch bonnet peppers With seeds, chopped
- 1/2 red onion chopped
- 4 green onion tops chopped
- 2 tablespoon Thyme leaves Fresh, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin 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
- Combine the vinegar, rum, habaneros, onion, green onion tops, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and molasses into a blender or food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth.
- Place the chicken in a large freezer bag, or in a large non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Pour lime juice over the chicken and coat well.
- Rub the jerk paste over the chicken pieces, coating evenly and thoroughly. Seal the bag or cover the chicken in the pan with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
- Remove chicken 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. Set aside to use as a basting sauce for the chicken.
- While basting the chicken, reserve a little of the boiled marinade to serve with the chicken for those who like it extra saucey.
- Preheat grill to 400 °F (204.44 °C). Add salt and pepper to chicken halves. Place chicken halves skin side down on the grill. Cover and cook for about 40-50 minute. Keep the grill temperature between 350 °F (176.67 °C) and 400 °F (204.44 °C), turning the chickens occasionally and basting with marinade, until the chicken is cooked through.
- The chicken is done when the juices run clear, not pink, when a knife tip is inserted into both the chicken breast and thigh. If using a meat thermometer, the temperature should read about 165 °F (73.89 °C) for the breast and 170 °F (76.67 °C) for the thigh.
- Transfer chicken to a large platter and tent loosely with foil. Let stand 15 minutes.
- Cut chicken into pieces. Serve with black beans and rice, and your favorite Central American lightly fermented cabbage relish.
Recipe adapted from Elise Bauer @ Simply Recipes.