Jerk Chicken

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a week in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  My mother was given the trip as a bonus for a big project she had led to completion at work, and she thoughtfully invited me to accompany her on the trip.  The package had us staying at a fairly bland resort, away from any of the real culture or flavor of the country, but we did manage to experience some Jamaican life while we were there.

The most distinct memory that I have from that trip is, of course, food related.  We had been on an excursion – maybe to the market, maybe to some tourist attraction, I can’t really remember – and on the way back we asked our taxi driver for a recommendation for lunch.  He began talking about good restaurants that he’d heard of in the resort area, but we insisted that he tell us where he would eat if it were up to him.

He pulled into a little road-side stand and told us that this was the best place to get the Jamaican specialty, Jerk.  If we wanted to eat here, though, he was going to take his lunch break and we’d have to wait for him to finish.  We conceded to his conditions and proceeded to enjoy some of the most flavorful, spicy, smoky chicken and pork we’d ever experienced.  Sitting in the noonday heat, perched on a wooden bench on the side of a busy road, eating meat off the bone with our fingers and drinking Red Stripe beer.  We felt right at home.

Needless to say, our taxi driver got a good tip from us that day.

Fast forward 18 years: When I asked my husband what he wanted to do for Father’s Day this year, he said all he really wanted was to watch a Gold Cup soccer game on television.  I told him I’d be happy to keep the kids out of the house for the 90 minutes (or so) of the game.  Out of curiosity, I asked who the US National team was playing.  Jamaica, he informed me.

And thus was born our menu for Father’s Day dinner. Despite my husbands protestations that I shouldn’t make a meal that represents the opposing team, I convinced him it would be okay (and it was – the US won 2-0).

Luckily I had a tried-and-true Jerk recipe that we’d discovered shortly after Mom and I returned from Jamaica ‘lo those many years ago.  It’s from a 1993 issue of Gourmet, and it very nearly replicates the flavors of that authentic Jerk we had on the roadside back in Montego Bay.

Jerk Chicken
prep time: 5 minutes
marinade time: 24 hours (at least)
cook time: 2 hours
serves: 8-10

  • 2 cups chopped scallion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons habanero chili paste or 2 habanero chilis, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 5 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 3 teaspoons English-style dry mustard
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons sucanat (some people recommend molasses)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 lbs. chicken (whole or parts)
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the scallion, chili paste, soy sauce, lime juice, allspice, mustard, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme and cinnamon.  It will become a dark, greenish paste.
  2. If using a whole chicken, remove the backbone and butterfly the chicken so that it lays flat.
  3. Smear the marinade all over the chicken (as you can see above, I did some chicken legs, and one whole chicken.  For the drumsticks, I reserved some of the marinade without the chili paste and used that for the kids – the flavor was still there, but the habanero heat was absent).
  4. Cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  5. Grill over indirect heat (around 250-275) for 2 hours, or until the joints of the chicken begin to separate and the juices run clear.  Keep an eye on it, since there is sugar in the marinade, and it will burn easily.

We served ours with some grilled asparagus and some creamy coleslaw, but you could certainly go more traditional with some black beans and rice or plantains. It was just as flavorful as I remember it being, and my husband loved it. The kids seemed to enjoy their heat-free version too, so definitely I recommend making the marinade without the chilies if you’ve got heat-sensitive people in your family.

So, the US plays Panama on Wednesday – what Panamanian dish should I make to ensure our victory?

>Asparagus – grilled

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Okay, I wasn’t going to do this post, simply because I’ve seen asparagus on almost every food-related website I frequent over the last week or so.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really needed to share my favorite asparagus preparation.  It’s not unique, it’s not original, it’s not complicated.  What it IS is FABULOUS and FLAVORFUL and FANTASTIC.
What it is is GRILLED.

I think it’s important to note that I only like asparagus this time of year, when it’s tender and tiny.  Big, woody strong flavored asparagus just isn’t my thing.  And really, when asparagus is as tiny as the stuff we used on Sunday, you can eat it raw.  I’ve been known to do that – just grab it up before it goes on the grill and munch away.  So the grill is really just an accessory – something to impart a little extra flavor (and what great flavor it is!) at the last minute.

Ingredients
One bunch super-tiny pencil-thin asparagus, trimmed
Grapeseed oil (about two tablespoons)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Begin by trimming the ends off of your asparagus – just hold one piece of asparagus by both ends and gently bend it until it snaps.  Where it naturally breaks will serve as your guide for where to cut the remaining pieces.  Toss the asparagus with oil, salt and pepper.
Place the seasoned asparagus on a hot grill, perpendicular to the grates (or use a grill basket) and let it cook for a minute or so.  Using tongs, carefully turn the asparagus so that it gets grilled on all sides.  Don’t leave it on there too long – you just want to get a little color on there, but you still want the asparagus to have some crunch.  I usually take it off once it has achieved that lovely bright-bright green color.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Enjoy!