Grill Something Different for Labor Day: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Looking for something different to grill this Labor Day weekend?  Borrow a recipe from the Caribbean and try some Jamaican Jerk Chicken, loaded with tons of spicy, sweet and bright flavors.  Inspired from our stop in Jamaica earlier this summer (lunch after the zip line), I broadened my horizons and tried making Jerk Chicken at home. Thankfully the task was made much easier by a timely article in Cooks Illustrated magazine (July/August 2012) with a well-tested recipe. In the article they explain their trial and errors in getting the flavors just right, include some science behind the food, and share grilling techniques to make the chicken succulent and moist.  As usual, they were spot on with flavors and techniques; you can read the abbreviated article here. We’ve made this recipe numerous times since and always get great results with juicy, flavorful chicken. Even though it may sound spicy, don’t skimp on the habanero peppers because they add a wonderful flavor punch without the extreme heat. To round out the meal, we added jasmine rice with black beans and some watermelon slices.

This menagerie of spices is what makes the jerk chicken so flavorful – 17 ingredients in all, but the blender does the work for you. The chicken and spice paste are added to a Ziploc bag where they marinate from 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours which is what we prefer because the flavors penetrate all through the meat. I modified the recipe for two people with one large chicken breast, 2 thighs and 1 drumstick – all bone-in and with skin on. Their recipe also calls for smoking the chicken using a foil packet with spices and wood chips, an easy way to add delicious smoke flavor, but we never seem to remember this part. With or without this step, the recipe is still delicious and easy to put together.

If you want more visuals, Cooks Illustrated created a video for this recipe that quickly steps you through making the marinade and grilling with indirect heat, the secret for juicy chicken – including how to make that simple tin foil smoker packet.

Did you know?  
In closing, here are some Labor Day tidbits from the U.S. Department of Labor’s website: 
“The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.”

“In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.”

“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

Whatever plans you may have for Labor Day, celebrate your day as an American worker.  And make sure you enjoy some scrumptious food with loved ones and friends!

Eat well and share the love!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken (print recipe)
Recipe: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated magazine, July/August 2012 issue, page 8
Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, 4 pieces of chicken

Ingredients:
2 lbs. chicken (bone-in, skin on), about 1 breast, 2 thighs, 1 drumstick
Marinade
2 teaspoons whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 habanero chiles, cut into thirds (stems & seeds removed, discard)
6 scallions, cut into large dice (remove & discard ends)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime zest (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried yellow mustard
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:
Add the chicken pieces to a gallon Ziploc or freezer bag; place the bag in a large, shallow bowl.

Marinade: Add the whole allspice berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns to the blender and replace the lid. Pulse on highest speed (“ice” if available) until coarsely ground.
Note
: You can also use your mortar & pestle or spice grinder to grind these spices, transfer spices to the blender.

To the blender, add the remaining ingredients and process until a smooth paste forms. Transfer the mixture to the bag with chicken, seal well, making sure all the air is removed. From the outside of the bag, massage the paste into both sides of the chicken pieces. Store the bag of marinated chicken in the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, up to 24 hours.

Grill (using gas grill): Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot, 15 to 25 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and turn off all other burner(s).

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, with marinade clinging and skin side up, as far away as possible, with thighs closest to fire and breast furthest away. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Move chicken, skin side down, to hotter side of grill; cook until browned and skin renders, 3 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken pieces and cook until browned on second side and breast register 160 degrees and thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees, 5 to 12 minutes longer.

Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.

  • Don’t forget the gloves when working with habanero chiles

An exhibit at the Denver Art Museum

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9 responses to “Grill Something Different for Labor Day: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  1. I would really recommend using real pimento wood – the smoke from the wood chips makes all the difference in the outcome of the chicken. It’s easy to find pimento wood online and a little goes a long way.

  2. I second that!!!!!! It should be one tasty meal!!!!!!

  3. I can’t wait to make this! You know what a wimp I am when it comes to hot peppers but I will trust your judgment that this gives more flavor than heat. I did watch the video on how to grill the chicken, so it seems quite simple. Love the rocks!

    • I think this will become a favorite for you and Ron, and he can learn a new grilling technique too. The habanero peppers become a background flavor and make the marinade that much better. When I saw the rocks, artfully piled in a large plexiglass container, I couldn’t help but smile at all those happy faces!

  4. This sounds really good. Love your smiley face stones!

    • Any leftovers can be used for a salad, chicken salad or just to nosh on. The smiley face rocks are from a small exhibit at the Denver Art Museum – I need to update the photo with the exhibit title and artist’s name.

  5. Christopher Kill

    Very Topical as well as Tropical as it was the West Indian Carnival ( Notting Hill) this weekend in London and it was full of jerk chicken

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