“Jerk Chicken” – The Holy Grail of Chicken
My obsession with chicken began at a very early stage in my life.
I will never forget the day my grandfather decided to butcher a chicken for dinner. He took me along as his assistant. I was probably 3 or 4 years old and found it extremely entertaining to watch a chicken run around – literally – with its head cut off. My Mom was severely concerned about my early childhood sanity, but I found it rather amusing.
My dad rarely cooked, but he did have two culinary duties. One of them was to cook Cevapcici, little Yugoslavian meatballs, on a charcoal grill. He always burnt them; it was a groundhog-day procedure which drove my mother insane. The second culinary duty was to operate our small table-top rotisserie grill. My Dad’s Lemon-Pepper Sunday Chicken was legendary.
When I started playing in a band in the early 80ies, all hell broke loose.
We typically had band rehearsal 6 nights a week. Afterwards we hit the clubs in a highly intoxicated state of mind. Around 2am we had to make a culinary pit stop to ensure we would survive the night.
There was a German chicken restaurant chain named Wienerwald with a location conveniently close to the clubs. They were infamous for their chicken dinners; we were infamous for our ruthlessness to devour them. It was a perfect fit.
Several years later I elevated my culinary horizon. The VIP Chicken Hot Spot had shifted to somewhat BFE Germany. “Hähnchen Ewald” was fine dining in a redneck barn. We sped down the curvy backroads with our Porsches. About a mile before touch-down, you would have sworn that this had to be the end of the world. There in the parking lot stood a perfect blend of supercars, old tractors and bizarre country vehicles. The Rich and Famous loved this place, especially after Supermodel Heidi Klum showed up with her Baby Daddy, In-Between Lover and F1-Tycoon Flavio Briattore. She publicly announced that this was her favorite restaurant, EVER! The menu was quite simple: a whole fried chicken, fries and for the very adventurous, chicken soup.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the worldwide crash of the music industry, I decided it was time to move on. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I was ready for the Carolina’s and some Southern Lovin’. Fate took me to Charleston, SC and on a Sunday after Church I had my first true revelation. Homemade Southern Fried Chicken!
Marinated in buttermilk, crispy on the outside, with just the perfect amount of spice. The first cut is the deepest and the first bite is the best! Sweet Baby Jesus. I felt I had arrived in Chicken Heaven.
I was convinced my quest, my life-long odyssey, my search for the Holy Grail of Chicken had come to an end – But I was wrong!
Authentic Jerk Chicken
Three years later my publisher sent me to St.Kitts to photograph some homes of the rich and famous. At night everyone gathered at the beach. The Caribbean sunset blended perfectly with reggae music, rum cocktails and the savory smell of grilled food. I had read a lot about jerk, but when you smell that perfect blend of pimento wood, allspice, thyme and roasted meat for the first time you realize that there are things in life that words can’t explain.
I had my first Jerk Chicken at Boozie’s on the Beach, and it turned out to be another step up.
Jerk is a Jamaican culinary tradition. Key ingredients are the famed Scotch Bonnet Peppers – a cultivar of the Habanero, allspice, thyme and a magical blend of citrus, cinnamon and ginger.
The marinade works extremely well with chicken, pork and fish. Jerk has it all. It’s extremely spicy, incredibly juicy, and unbelievably succulent. The worst part is – it is addictive. Once you’ve had jerk, you want it again, and again, and again…
I finally started to understand the words of the wise: The journey is the reward! And, I had my second revelation: Today, I know why Bob shot the sheriff, but didn’t shoot the deputy… It was a Classic Jerk-Move!
Authentic Jerk Chicken & Marinade
Prep Time: 60 Minutes
Cooking Time: 180 Minutes
Total time: 4 Hour
Servings: 2-4 People
- 1 Whole Spatchcocked Chicken (or 6 legs and thighs)
- Jerk Marinade (as described)
- Pimento Wood for Smoking (Alternative: Cherry or Apple Wood)
- 1 tbsp of Honey
- 1 tbsp Lime Juice freshly squeezed
- 1 Splash of Beer (optional)
Fresh Ingredients Marinade & Liquids
- 4 Scotch Bonnet Peppers, seeded and stemmed, keep seeds
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- 1 Piece of Ginger (approx 1 1/2”) freshly grated
- 1 tbsp Fresh Thyme (leaves)
- 4 Spring Onions
- 2 tbsp Orange Juice Freshly Squeezed
- 2 tbsp Lime Juice Freshly Squeezed
- 2 tbs Coconut Oil (or a good vegetable oil)
- 4 tbsp Jamaican Rum (any unspiced rum will do)
Spices for Marinade
- 20g Allspice - Whole
- 30g Black Peppercorns
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1/2 Nutmeg - freshly grated
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/2 tbsp Sea Salt (go easy, add later if needed)
- 3 tbsp Brown Sugar
Scotch Bonnet Peppers are a key ingredient of Jerk. They are a cultivar of habaneros, though their taste is more fruity. You can find them all year round in Etsy stores. (Our favorite Etsy Store is Jerk Like Us) I usually order a pound and freeze the peppers that I don't use.
If you can't find Scotch Bonnet Peppers, you may use habaneros. If you don't feel like getting Pimento Wood for the smoker, I would recommend using a fruit wood like apple or cherry. You can find Pimento Wood chunks for a smoker in dedicated little web-stores or on Etsy.
Go easy on salt and add later if necessary.
Since we are using quite a few ingredients, I usually make a double or quadruple recipe and freeze the left over marinade. You'll be glad to have it available the next time you are craving jerk.
Jerk marinade also works extremely well for BBQ and ribs. You can even try it on fish or shrimp. I have experienced that when you cook a whole chicken low and slow, the breast meat seems to hit a stall around 155F. I usually take the chicken off the grill at about 15 minutes after it reaches this point because I found it may get dry if you leave it on much longer. The chicken has never been undercooked at that point.
FDA recommendations are 165F for breast and 185F for legs and thighs. Use your own judgement.
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