Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken

I needed a jerk chicken recipe. I planned on making some jerk chicken as a main savory dish for the birthday party of one of my closest friends. To be sure, I have made jerk chicken in the past. Those recipes can be found on this blog: once as my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge for the country of Jamaica and a second time for a Savage Bolek's Barbecue.  Both jerk chicken recipes were very good. However, I wanted a new and different recipe for Jamaican Jerk chicken.  A recipe that is unique.  Something that would make the chicken worthy of birthday party for my friend.  

As usual, I scoured the Internet for recipes. As with practically everything on the Internet, there is no shortage of jerk chicken recipes. I needed to focus my search.  My first step is to look for authentic recipes.  That whittled down the number, but I was still unsatisfied with the recipes.  I needed to go a step further. I began doing different types of searches.  This led me to a recipe that immediately caught my attention: Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken. I am a huge fan of reggae generally, and of Bob Marley and the Wailers in particular. The thought that I could make a jerk recipe that comes from the Marley family was an opportunity that I could not pass up.  I got the ingredients that I needed, a whole of chicken parts (breasts and thighs) and I prepped the marinade.  After ensuring the chicken was covered with the marinade, I placed the chicken in the fridge to rest overnight.  I did the same. 

The next day, as the chicken was still marinating the fridge, I got to thinking. Was this really Bob Marley's recipe?  Could this even be a recipe from the Marley family?  I returned to the Internet to explore the recipe's provenance a little further. The first clue that I fund was not too promising.  While I got the recipe from the Food Network, I did not look at the time to see where the recipe came from. Whens I returned to to the recipe, I saw that the recipe was from a segment that aired on episode of Emeril Live. The second clue was somewhat ambiguous. The recipe was provided courtesy of Bob Marley ... a Tribute to Freedom. I had no idea what or who that was.  However, I soon discovered the answer. Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom is, Bob Marley ... a restaurant at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. 

Image from the New Yorker
At this point, I was very suspicious as to whether this recipe was truly a recipe of Bob Marley or even the Marley family. (I should note that, during my research, I learned that Ziggy Marley has published a cookbook, which has a jerk chicken recipe.) Nevertheless, I continued my search, trying to find any link between a Universal Studios restaurant and the Marley family. I had hoped that there was some connection between the restaurant and the Bob Marley Foundation, which could somehow provide some insight into the origin of the recipe. My search did not produce any information that would have led me to believe that this particular recipe was truly one from the Marley family. Moreover, there were significant differences between this recipe and Ziggy Marley's recipe (such as the latter using garlic but not using soy sauce) that leave me with some doubts. 

Picture from Discogs
And, then, I got to thinking again. Did it really matter if it was Bob Marley's own recipe. Perhaps I had the wrong focus in my research.  My thoughts turned to the intersection between Bob Marley and reggae, on the one hand, and Jamaican food (such as jerk chicken) on the other. Much like Americans blues music, there is a well developed line of reggae songs about cooking and food.  (That is one of the many reasons why I love both reggae and blues so much.) There is Sunday Dish by Early B and Roast Fish and Corn Bread by Lee Perry. Both of these songs are musical recipes, with the musicians working ingredients and cooking techniques into the lyrics. Someday I will have to try to recreate these dishes for my blog.  There are songs about ingredients, like Avocado by Jah9. (She really does love her avocados, by the way.) There are even songs like Eyes No See by General Trees, which delve into issues underlying food, such as being swindled by producers and stores who mislabel what they sell to their customers.

The strong connection between reggae music and cooking/food means that, if one spends enough time, he or she will inevitably find songs by reggae artists about that iconic Jamaican food: jerk chicken.  Not only songs, but an actual "anthem" for jerk chicken. Lion Pawm Twinnz recorded a catchy anthem for every jerk chicken vendor, Jerk Chicken and Sauce:

Every second, every minute, every hour of the day. Listening to the song makes me very hungry for jerk chicken. It also reminds of the need for the spicy sauce that is served jerk chicken. The recipe from Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom did not include a recipe for sauce. This omission was fine in this case because, as much as I love very spicy things, I would be cooking jerk chicken for a wide range of people who may not share my love of mouth-burning sensations. So, the sauce will have to wait for a future post.  

In the end, even if this recipe is not actually Bob Marley's Jerk Chicken recipe, it nevertheless accomplished what Bob Marley would have certainly wanted: it got someone to think.  While I may not have been thinking about the big issues, such as the wide disparity of income in Jamaica or the plight of the impoverished (which is what I do during my day job), the recipe got me to explore aspects of Jamaican culture and music that, heretofore, I had only thought about in a casual way.   

One final note: the recipe from Bob Marley ... A Tribute to Freedom was for jerk chicken skewers.  I used it on grilled chicken pieces. So, the cooking instructions are different. I adapted the grilling instructions from my prior efforts at jerk chicken as well as some of those countless other recipes on the Internet.  As with the cooking of any meat, times can differ based of whether the cut is bone-in or boneless, how much you are grilling, whether you are using charcoal or gas, etc.  So, be vigilant and do not blindly follow the cooking times. (That is actually a good piece of advice for any recipe; as is the additional note to keep a meat thermometer handy.) 

Recipe adapted from Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom
available on Food Network
Serves several

1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground Jamaican pimento (allspice)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 hot pepper, finely ground (or 2 Scotch bonnet peppers)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
7 pounds of chicken (legs, thighs, breasts)

1. Prepare the marinade.  Mix together the onion, scallion, thyme, salt, sugar, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, hot pepper, black pepper, soy sauce, oil and vinegar. Add the chicken and make sure the marinade covers the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and preferably overnight.

2.  Prepare the chicken for grilling.  Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow the chicken to come to room temperature. Remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe away any excess marinade.

3. Grill the chicken. Heat a charcoal grill or gas grill to medium high heat. You should make sure that you have some areas where you can use direct heat and indirect heat Depending upon the pieces being grilled (breast or thigh/legs), you should grill for a total of 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The grilling process should be divided into quarters: grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes and then rotate the chicken by 90 degrees, cooking it for another 7 to 8 minutes. This will create grill marks on the chicken.  Flip the chicken and repeat the process again.  If it is appears that some pieces are cooking faster than others, move them to the side of the grill for indirect cooking.

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the chicken reaches 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the chicken from the grill and allow it to rest, covered in foil, for 5 to ten minutes. Serve immediately.


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