How To Make Jamaican-Style Jerk Chicken, Plus A Bonus Recipe Idea

There are many foods in the world that you instinctively link with certain cultures or areas - Italy has pasta, France has baguettes, England has fish and chips.

When you think of Jamaica, jerk is probably the first food to come to mind. It might even come to mind before the white sandy beaches or all-inclusive resorts.

Jerk, whether chicken or pork, or even tofu, is distinctive, with a spicy-sweet tang.

You'll taste ginger, Scotch Bonnet peppers, thyme, and allspice all at once, culminating in that complex and delicious flavor.

The history of jerk is also fascinating, with the pit-barbecue method generally used for jerk as well as the seasoning itself coming from Africa along with slaves brought by the Spanish and British to Jamaica and other areas of the Caribbean.

Chicken is especially good for jerk. Chicken can be a blank canvas, and jerk is definitely distinctive enough to transform it into something exciting.

Also, chicken is easy to find almost everywhere, making this an easy dish to prepare. In the end, it seems a lot harder than it actually is, and you'll come off as an impressive chef to anyone unfamiliar with jerk cooking.

By following some of the key steps like making a great marinade, taking the time to let the flavors develop, and cooking it to perfection, you’ll be on your way to a versatile, delicious, and easy jerk chicken experience in no time.

The first step is making a marinade.

Although we’re going to put some dry seasoning on as well, making a marinade is key, as is letting the chicken sit for at least 3 or 4 hours.

That way, the chicken is flavored all the way through, not just on the surface, and you’ll get that intense flavor in every bite. A marinade is pretty easy to make - you need some essentials, but the heat level is totally up to you.

You’re going to need some Scotch bonnet peppers, or, if you can’t find them, you can substitute habaneros. You also need allspice. In an ideal situation, you should grind your allspice berries and pick fresh thyme, and have fresh ginger. If you can’t, ground allspice, dried thyme, and powdered ginger until they are fine - just remember they aren’t as potent as fresh herbs, so you may need to taste and adjust more often.

You’ll also need a little olive oil, some garlic (again, fresh is best, but powdered will do), salt, a little brown sugar or honey, and, to add a little acidity, some lime juice and zest.

Pro tip: make the spice mixture in bulk if you’re using dried spices - this will save you work this time when you go to grill the chicken and in the future when you make it again.

After you’ve got your spices mixed, and added your liquids, this is a good time to taste everything. Try the marinade and see if there's enough salt, acidity, and heat

Remember, you can add them in, but it’s hard to take salt, peppers, or lime out of a recipe.

Once the marinade is perfect, it's time to prepare your chicken.

You can buy whole chickens and butcher them, have your meat counter do it, or buy a whole chicken already cut up. Either put it in a resealable bag or a shallow pan, and pour half the marinade over. Massage it in, so that every piece is covered, then repeat with the remaining marinade. Put it in the fridge, either sealed or covered, for 3 to 4 hours.

When you’re ready to cook, pull the chicken out and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You want to start the cooking process, not roast it - that’s what the grill is for.

Put your chicken in the pan. Make sure to choose a pan that is large enough that no chicken overlaps, which would result in underdone or steamed parts.

Bake chicken for 30 minutes, and get your grill ready, making sure it’s hot so you can get a good sear on the chicken. Take chicken out of the oven and sprinkle a little more of the spice mixture you made on it, and brush it with olive oil - this helps keep it from sticking and adds a nice sheen.

Grill for 5 to 10 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not burning, then flip and repeat. The key is to squeeze some lime juice on the chicken, cover loosely with foil, and don’t touch it for at least 10 minutes.

Then you just let it cool off and dig in!

Jerk chicken is great on its own as a main course, but there's more you can do.

You could shred it and put in on top of baked sweet potatoes with salsa and avocados for a sweet and tangy main dish, or make sandwiches or wraps.

A creative way to use it is to take pizza crusts or naan, use a little jerk sauce (basically a thickened marinade) as a base, and top with jerk chicken, cheese, fajita veggies, and then bake it. Then add avocados to finish it off.

There's a lot you can do with jerk chicken. It's not just limited to traditional dishes. If you're creative with your cooking, the possibilities are truly endless.

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Kylie Morrow

About Kylie Morrow

Born on the tropical island that is Saint Lucia affords a never-ending source of inspiration. In the past 13 years, Kylie loved to work with various newspapers, magazines and blogs in the Caribbean.

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