Thursday, May 23, 2019

Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken

For the precious few who follow this blog, it may seem that I love Jerk Chicken. There are three recipes already on the blog for Jerk Chicken.  The first one dates back to October 2010, when I made Jerk Chicken as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to make a main course from Jamaica. (It is hard to believe that the challenge is in its 9th year, and, I have only completed 34 of the 80 challenges.  I need to get working on that!) The second recipe dates from July 2011, when I made it as part of one of the two Savage Bolek Barbecues that we hosted.  (We haven't hosted one since that time.  We need to do another one.)  The final recipe is Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken, which is one of my favorite Jerk Chicken recipes. 

What ties all three of these recipes together is that the chicken is grilled.  In fact, that is how Jerk Chicken has traditionally been made ... well, almost.  And, that story is the subject of this post.

Jerk chicken originated with the Taino, the indigenous people who lived in Jamaica and much of the rest of the Caribbean before the colonization.  The Taino developed the "jerk" method, which was to cover the meat (usually chicken, but could be pork, goat, seafood or vegetables).  The meat was then cooked slow over a fire.  Now, that is what is reflected in most recipes for jerk chicken.  There is one critical component of the cooking process that is missing.  The Taino cooked the "jerk" chicken not just over a fire, but with green pimento wood.  The use of this wood added a smoky flavor to the chicken, which gave the chicken its distinctive flavor.  Most recipes omit the use of the wood, leaving the jerk chicken something less than the original Taino version. 

For my fourth Caribbean Jerk recipe, I wanted to go back to that original version.  I decided to cook the chicken low and slow over a fire, with wood.  In other words, I would smoke the jerk chicken.  The problem is that I don't have a ready access to green pimento wood.  (Believe it or not, Amazon does not ship green pimento wood chunks.)  So, I did a little research and discovered that any fruit wood, such as apple wood, would work as an adequate substitute for pimento wood.  As I have an overabundance of apple wood, I used that to smoke the chicken.

As one would expect, there is a significant difference between jerk chicken that is just grilled and smoked jerk chicken.  The question for me is which one I liked better. The answer is a close call because, as I noted at the outset, I love jerk chicken.  However, in the end, I am always drawn to the way food was originally prepared.  It is the history buff in me that comes through in my cooking.  Thus, I have to say that I like the Taino approach, to cook the chicken over a fire with the wood. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 whole chicken (about 3-5 pounds)
1 bunch of scallions
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1-2 habanero peppers, seeded and minced 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dry thyme
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil

1.  Marinate the chicken.  Add all of the ingredients into a very large, non-reactive bowl.  Cover and place in the refrigerator.  Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight. 

2.  Prepare the smoker.  Soak some chunks of apple wood in a bowl for at least 1 hour prior to the smoke . Heat a smoker to between 250 degrees and 275 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add a couple of apple wood chunks.  Oil the grate and then place the chicken, skin side up onto the grate.  Smoke the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  The cooking time should take about 30 to 45 minutes per pound, but that will depend upon the temperature of the smoker. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the chicken from the smoker, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 to ten minutes.  Carve the chicken as desired and serve immediately. 


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