An unadorned plate of Jerk Chicken
Pirate Surprise and Caribbean Jerk Chicken
by Victoria Challancin
Maëlle, my son's girlfriend, wanted to surprise my son while they were visiting Mexico over the holidays with a birthday party dinner starring many far-flung friends who were home visiting as well. The idea was to throw a surprise party with a pirate theme, with everyone dressed in appropriate pirate attire. As it turned out, Matey, the only pirate inspiration in the room ended up being the food, which Maëlle's mother and I lovingly prepared for a hungry group of 20-year-olds. And let me tell you, 20-year-olds can eat! No more focus on a piñata, no more hide and seek, just big appetites and much appreciation.
My contribution was Jerk Chicken and Rum Cake. I hadn't made jerk in a while, but was exposed to some great recipes while growing up in South Florida. Usually, if inspired to make a jerk recipe, I make a tray of my sister-in-law's recipe for jerk wings or perhaps a pork tenderloin with jerk flavors. But because Jerk Chicken was specifically requested for this party, here it is-- definitely the kind of jerk we all want to run into.
Cook's Note: The marinade has such fabulous and flavorful ingredients in it that I just had to boil it down (to make it safe to eat) and hope there was a use for it at the party. It proved to be almost as popular as the succulent chicken as a dip for the Colombian patacones, or crispy fried plantains. We even added some tortilla chips for dipping once the plantains ran out! Delicious. Don't waste the marinade! I promise to get the recipe for the plantains soon. And I'll add the made-from-scratch rum cake, so different than the box mixes I made as a child.
Marinated Jerk Chicken caramelizing in the pan
A Little History on Jerk
According to food history authorities, "jerk" is a bastardization of the Peruvian word charqui, which refers to dried strips of marinated meat (i.e."jerky). Apparently, as a verb, "to jerk" means to poke holes in the meat so that the spices and marinade could permeate. Other theories abound as to the etymology of the word, but any way you choose to interpret it, today "jerk" refers to a Jamaican style of cooking chicken, beef, pork, goat, fish, vegetables, or fruits, in which the marinade or paste includes hot peppers and lots of spices. For a more indepth article, go here for a good read from the Food History site.
Although recipes vary greatly from cook to cook, most Jerk Seasoning will contain Allspice (native to Jamaica), Scotch Bonnet Chiles, and Thyme. It is always preferable to use whole, freshly toasted spices, but jerk seasoning can be purchased as a paste or a dry condiment as well. In the Islands, jerk can be incendiary in terms of the heat level of the chiles, but I prefer to tone it down a bit. The number and type of chiles, is, of course, up to you and your preferences.
Caribbean Jerk Chicken
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
Notes: I used 3 serrano chiles and 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes because it was what I had on hand. Because I was rushing, I didn't have time to let the chicken marinate for more than 2 hours, but an overnight marination time would be far better! I have a large-capacity food processor, which worked perfectly for this recipe. You could also make the marinade in batches, mixing it all together in a bowl if necessary. This makes a lot of marinade (lucky for us!), so you could easily increase the amount of chicken used. The choice of chicken pieces is up to you. I was able to cook the marinade without adding extra liquid, but you could add a bit of orange juice or water if necessary.
For the marinade:
3 - 6 scotch bonnet, habanero, or red serrano chiles, stems removed
3 medium white onions, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
9 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons allspice berries, lightly toasted and ground
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons salt
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
3 teaspoons ground ginger or a 2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Pick-a-Peppa sauce (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup white vinegar
16 skinless chicken drumsticks
6 boneless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
1/4 cup extra-virgen olive oil
Place the chiles, onions, thyme, garlic, allspice, sugar, black pepper, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large food processor or blender and puree until fairly smooth. Add
the Worcestershire sauce, Pick-a-Peppa sauce, olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, orange juice and white vinegar and blend until smooth.
Place the chicken in a large plastic bag or a metal bowl with the marinade. SEal the bag or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate overnight, if possible, in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
To cook, drain the chicken, saving the marinade. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Cook the chicken in batches, adding more oil as necessary and turning frequently, until almost cooked through, approximately 15 minutes, depending on the size and type of the pieces. Chicken should be browned and caramelized on the outside. Place the chicken in a large baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes, turn chicken, replace the aluminum foil, and bake for another 15 minutes or until completely cooked with the juices running clear.
To cook the marinade: Because the reserved marinade has been in contact with raw chicken, it must be cooked to be safe to eat. Place the marinade in heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, adding a bit of water or orange juice if necessary to prevent burning. Serve with fried plantains, crudités, cheese, or corn chips--or just about anything!
©Victoria Challancin All Rights Reserved.