As a Private Chef my role was to accompany my clients where ever they might travel in the World. Part of the travel was aboard luxury mega yachts. It mainly consisted of summers in the Mediterranean Sea and winters cruising the Caribbean. This fortunately granted me numerous trips to one of my favorite islands of them all, Jamaica.
I am not only a lover of the island due to it’s beauty but because of it’s unique cuisine. Jamaican cuisine is a mixture of cooking techniques, flavors, and spices that has been influenced by the Spanish, Irish, British, Africans, Indian, and Chinese who have inhabited the island over the years. Many dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. The Countries national dish is known as “jerk”. Jerk is a spice marinade that is generally added to chicken or pork and then grilled. Jamaican jerk sauce is originally an African dish that can be traced back to the pre-slavery days in West Africa. The dish was brought to the Caribbean and evolved into a culinary classic. It’s a fiery dish due to the addition of scotch bonnets, a native ingredient of Jamaica.
North Carolina’s indigenous chili pepper is know as the Carolina Reaper. It is considered to be the hottest chili in the world with a 2,200,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Unit is the measurement of a chilis spiciness). This Summer I got a great yield from the reapers that I planted. I made a few hot sauces, some jungle Thai curry, and decided to add them to the authentic jerk chicken recipe I learned while cooking in Jamaica many years ago. This dish is an example of my evolution as a gastronomist. Here I’m using techniques I learned throughout my travels and incorporating local North Carolina ingredients.
One of the secrets to the success of this dish is of course to use the best ingredients possible. Lucky for me there are several local organic farms here in Western North Carolina that offer amazing vegetables, livestock, and foul.
It’s a fairly simple dish to make but as with all cooking, technique is king. The two most important steps are to really rub the meat with the jerk seasoning including under the skin. The next step is just time. The longer you allow the meat to marinate the better it will taste. I advice a minimum of 6 hours but advice 24-36 hours for best results.
The Caribbean is also known as the spice islands. Spices were brought from all over the world and grown in the Caribbean for trade to the United States. My first introduction to allspice was during my first trip to the islands. Allspice is the dried fruit of the dioica plant. The fruit is picked when green and unripe then is traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, they are brown and resemble large, brown, smooth peppercorns. History says the name “allspice” was created by the English, who thought it combined the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Allspice is an essential ingredient to Caribbean cuisine. It has since become one of my favorite spices that I not only incorporate in to my savory applications but dessert presentations as well.
The final and most important step is the grilling. I will always advice the slow and low technique paired with indirect cooking. Indirect cooking is not cooking directly over the heat source to avoid burning.
I used charcoal for this recipe but you can easily use your favorite wood or even use a gas grill. You can baste the chicken throughout the cooking process with any remaining jerk marinade for additional flavor. I prefer it served with rice and beans but it will go great with any of your favorite side dishes.
Yields: 4-5 servings
1 large bunch scallions, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled, roughly chopped
4 to 6 Carolina reaper chili peppers, stems and seeds removed, roughly chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
2 tbsp ground allspice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp black pepper
½ cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3-4 pounds bone-in, skin-on thighs
1. In a large mixing bowl add chicken, set aside, and reserve.
2. Add remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a coarse paste.
3. Pour over reserved chicken and rub in thoroughly, including under skin.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate a minimum of 6 hours. 24 to 36 hours will develop the best flavor.
5. Remove chicken from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
6. Add to prepared grill and cook skin side up for 15-20 minutes. Flip chicken over and cook and additional 10-15 minutes until cooked though and chicken is a beautiful mahogany color.
7. Remove from grill and serve with rice and beans or your favorite side dishes.