Aside from turquoise water, white sand beaches, friendly people and luxury resorts, the thing I miss most about Jamaica is authentic Jamaican jerk chicken. It’s got just the right amount of spice (for me), tender meat that falls off the bones and pairs perfectly with a Red Stripe beer.
The photo above is from the famous Scotchie’s restaurant in Montego Bay. I’m not sure this poor man knew what hit him with all of the flashing. Scotchie’s is a favorite among locals and I highly recommend a stop there.
What is Jerk?
Jerk is a style of cooking that’s native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet-marinated in a spicy seasoning called Jamaican jerk spice. The two main ingredients are pimento (allspice) and scotch bonnet peppers. I had very hot scotch bonnet peppers and those I could totally tolerate. Either way, if you like hot peppers, you’ll love these.
Jerk refers to both the spice rub and the style of cooking. Why the word jerk? No one really knows. It could refer to the action of poking holes in the meat in order to allow the spices to penetrate, “jerking” strips of meat off of the bone, or turning the meat in the marinade.
History of Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Long story short, this technique of cooking has been traced back to the 17th century. It might actually be of African origin because as the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish fled and left African slaves behind. The African slaves escaped the mountains where they integrated with local people.
Food was not easy to come by so they preserved meat with spices and secretly cooked it over pimento wood, a tree that is quite common on the island. I was told verbally while in Jamaica that the reason for the tin cover, shown in the above photo, was that it enabled the cooking to be done somewhat secretly. The upshot is that the resulting chicken is incredibly moist!
- 1 whole chicken cleaned
- 1 medium size onion
- 3 stalks scallions
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 1 sprig fresh ginger
- 12 pimento seeds (allspice)
- 3 cloves garlic or 3 oz garlic powder
- (The above seasoning can be substituted by using 4 tbsp of a store-bought jerk sauce, like Walkerwsood, Grace Foods)
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 1 can of your favorite ceer
- 4 tbsp butter
- Clean chicken thoroughly (do not cut).
- Season chicken with salt and garlic powder to your taste.
- Rub jerk seasoning on chicken inside and out or blend onion, scallion, scotch bonnet pepper, ginger and pimento (allspice) in a food processor, then pour mixture evenly over chicken.
- Cut up small onion and stuff in middle of chicken.
- Let chicken sit in refrigerator overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees when ready to bake.
- Open a can of beer and place in the middle of a roasting pan.
- Set chicken on top of open beer can and bake in oven for 1 hour or until done.
- Baste chicken with butter throughout cooking.
- Chicken is ready tender, juicy, and ready to eat!
Recipe by Chef Roland Brammer