One, two, cha cha cha… okay, so the Cha Cha is actually a Cuban dance, and not Jamaican where this incredibly spicy (both heat and flavor) recipe hails from. I added the third cha because this chicken is that good AND that easy! There are hundreds of variations of Jamaican Jerk recipes out there, but there are a few ingredients that every recipe should have: a lot of allspice, scallions (green onions), scotch bonnet (or habañero) chilies, thyme, and garlic.
Much to the amazement of a certain Food TV personality that I have worked for, allspice is an actual spice, not just a bunch of ground up spices. :-) Also called Jamaican pepper, allspice is the dried berries of the Pimenta tree which is native to the Caribbean region. Jerk chicken in Jamaica is grilled over the pimenta wood coals which adds unbelievable flavor. Since pimenta wood chips are not readily available, I used apple wood chips in the smoke box which I think worked out pretty well.
Things to note when you go to make this:
~ Yes, it is a lot of allspice, but please don’t use less (unless you just hate the taste of allspice, but if that’s the case, this recipe might not be for you).
~ Don’t wuss out on the chilies. Chilies are not just heat, they also add flavor. If you cannot tolerate the heat, remove the seeds and papery membranes and that will eliminate most of the heat.
Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken
serves six to eight
For the marinade:
4 bunches scallions, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
3 to 5 scotch bonnet or habañero chilies, chopped
1 1/2 inch knob of ginger, grated
1/4 cup ground allspice
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup neutral oil
4 to 5 pounds chicken thighs, wings, or a combination of both
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Some type of fruit wood or maple wood chips, soaked in water and drained (DO NOT use mesquite)
Spray bottle of water in case of flare ups
Combination of direct and indirect
Place all of the ingredients through the brown sugar in a food processor and pulse until you have a somewhat chunky paste. Scrape the paste into a bowl large enough to tightly hold the chicken, and stir in the citrus zest and juice, vinegar, and oil. Measure out 1/2 cup of the marinade and reserve for later. Add the chicken making sure that every piece gets coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but this is so much better if you let it marinate overnight.
Set up the grill for two zone (both direct and indirect) grilling; medium-high heat on the direct side. Brush and oil the grates, then add the wood chips to the smoke box (direct heat side) right before you start to grill.
Remove the chicken from the marinade about 30 to 45 minutes before cooking. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Lay the chicken skin-side down and give a good 3 to 4 minute sear to mark the chicken and give it a little char. Flip and move to the indirect side. By now your wood chips should be beginning to smoke. Close the grill cover and stabilize the temperature around 325°F. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour or until chicken is no longer pink at the bone.
While chicken is cooking, add the reserved marinade to a bowl and thin with a little water to make a spoonable sauce. When the chicken is ready, remove from the grill and transfer to a platter. Garnish with extra thyme leaves and serve hot or room temperature with jerk sauce. BTW – so good cold from the fridge the next day!
Come on, mon – give it a try!
Cheers and Happy Grilling!