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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jerk Chicken Thighs


I don't know all that much about Jamaican cuisine, so in order to write about jerk chicken, I thought I should do a little online research. Otherwise, I blindly enter my kitchen with my best guess being that jerk chicken is the chicken in the barnyard who tells sexist and racist jokes. And for some reason, I thought that probably wasn't correct.

And it isn't. According to WiseGeek.com, "jerk" comes from ways to prepare and spice dried meat, or jerky. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but jerk spice is best known from Jamaican culture. It's a blend of spices, best known as a dry rub (though it can be a wet/marinade) that almost always includes allspice and hot peppers. Other common ingredients include garlic, onions, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and/or salt. Jerk cooking almost always happens by way of grilling over a wood-chip fed flame.

This recipe lacks many of these elements. Jamaican food, including jerk seasoning, often includes Scotch bonnet peppers. This recipe didn't call for any peppers at all. If you wanted to add heat, you could add a pepper if you wish. Just be careful with a Scotch bonnet--it's one of the hottest peppers in the world. I wouldn't recommend it unless you know what you're in for. Also, the cooking method suggested is either grilling or broiling. Since we live on the second floor of a condo in the city and it's the beginning of December, grilling was out. Broiling is fine, but it doesn't give your chicken a very authentic jerk look; it's pretty anemic, which is maybe appropriate for Caribbean chicken cooked by a white woman in New England.

Grilling or broiling, the cook time is about 4 minutes per side. This is another discrepancy, and probably why Cooking Light chose to call this recipe "Jerk Chicken Thighs" and not "Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs." On Jamaicans.com, one writer says, "To ensure that the meat is properly cooked BBQing should be done in Jamaican time...nice and slow." Oh well. Without further ado, here's the recipe for lightening-quick, not-hot jerk chicken.

Jerk Chicken Thighs
1 tbsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
4 garlic cloves, crushed, or 2 tsp bottled, minced garlic
8 (4-oz) skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1. Combine first 4 ingredients, 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub chicken with spice mixture.

2. Preheat broiler or grill.

3. Place chicken on grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray; cook 4 minutes each side or until done.

The Verdict: It's an unexpected taste for the uninitiated.

With my first bite, I felt like the rub was a little too muddy. As I continued to eat it, the flavors became more distinct and I began to enjoy it. My husband's reaction was a bit perplexed; he couldn't figure out what he was eating. "It tastes like chocolate," was his response. I asked if he meant that in a good or bad way and he said good; that the flavor combination was "sweetish, like chocolate."

I'm always a fan of quick dinners and dinners that can be whipped up with pretty much what you have on hand, so this recipe certainly fits the bill. But I think I might play with the spices a bit more before committing this as a must-save, go to, quick meal. I saw one homemade jerk rub that included brown sugar and thyme, as well as pepper. But since no one in my family is a great fan of scortchingly-hot food, I'm thinking a finely diced jalapeño. Seeds removed.

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