Well, here I am… finally. I feel like today is the perfect day to start the site I’ve been working toward since January. This long winter has given us no shortage of reasons to complain about the weather. We Canadians have a very distinctive knack for spending hours kvetching about the seasons – whether it’s stinky hot or bone clackingly cold – we love to gripe about it… at least we are never at a loss for things to talk about. As I sit in my favourite sunny cafe on the Lakeshore I am reminded just how uniting the changing temperatures can be.
We are slowly creeping into spring and today I reached passed my tired winter parka with glee and snatched up my denim jacket. Walking down the street I see so much life spilling out from hibernation. There is a collective optimism spreading across the city – people almost skipping in unison while humming The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, dogs lazily bask in the rays (though, I’m sure Emmett isn’t too happy to say goodbye to the snow) and strangers are saying hello to each other.

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I’ve been ruminating for weeks on which recipe to open with. I am a pretty nostalgic person, so it’s important to me to lead with a dish that has meaning. Something simple and seasonal? Something dynamic that emerges from the oven to oohs and ahhs? Something creative and unique? There is one dish that comes back to me again and again, one dish that seemed to start me on this path that is bringing me so much joy, one recipe that I make a thousand times over for those I love… Jerk Chicken.

I can’t tell you how this recipe made it into my repertoire, I’ve never been to Jamaica, although I fully intend to get there for the real deal. I have a lot of food fantasy trips, but going to Boston Beach and having jerk from a 3rd generation jerk maestro is certainly near – or at the top of my epic list.  A very good friend of mine growing up is from Ocho Rios and I got to hear about and see pictures of this tropical far away land. It held a great deal of mystery for me back then. I still have the hand carved bamboo bangle she brought me, even though it looks more like a napkin ring now. All the time I spent at her house I don’t recall eating any traditional fare. I can’t even tell you the first time I had jerk anything. I lived in Toronto’s east end near the iconic The Real Jerk‘s original location, but I think we only went a few times (big regret not going everyday). Maybe my affinity for spicy foods drove me to jerk, but I do remember the first time I made it myself. It was from Jamie Oliver’s “Meals in Minutes” and like most of what he does with food, it felt so accessible… and totally delish.

That was years ago and since then I have tweaked and riffed and borrowed and played with it to make my own version for both the grill and the oven, consequently, we can enjoy this dish all year… and I do (and do and do and d0). One thing you are bound to learn about me is my unending and self- mutilating need for spicy food, it’s just not a great meal unless I’m sweating and trying to keep from dying. I once burnt my face with a scotch bonnet pepper while I was canning cauliflower and it was red for a week. The great thing about jerk is the ability to tweak the heat. The marinade or dry rub fills the meat (or fish or veg) with flavour, it’s that finishing slather that brings the burn. Drizzle and dip or don’t drizzle and dip… for me it’s all about that potent, vinegary sauce.

 

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This is dedicated to those I made this for first – Moosh, Neil, Nicky, Morgan, Chris, and Alex… thanks for sweatin’ it out with me… here’s to Jazz, Catan and more great food. xoxo

So, with great nostalgia on this gorgeous day and with months of barbecuing in our futures, I bring you that dish I love so dear – Jamaican Jerk Chicken.

 

MY FAVOURITE JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN

serves 3-4

Traditionally jerk is done over a barbecue barrel or pit with pimento wood – the tree where the allspice berry comes from – and cooked slowly in a wet marinade including the ubiquitous scotch bonnet pepper as well as thyme, all spice and scallions/onions. Beyond that, recipes fluctuate to include a myriad of other ingredients and spices. Pork was the original meat used but chicken, goat, fish, shellfish and vegetables all can be prepared this way.

My recipe has gone through some major changes over the years. I have tried molasses, honey and brown sugar. I’ve used lime juice and vinegar, as well as thousands of spice combinations. My sauce began very thick, almost like a paste, but I have since thinned it out greatly to be closer to the authentic origins.

You can use dark or white meat, my favourite are chicken thighs – they are cheap, meaty and moist – but my first choice would be to spatchcock the whole chicken. Keeping the chicken whole makes it super succulent and flattening it in this manner makes it quick on the grill. Check out this HOW TO SPATCHCOCK A CHICKEN by Martha Stewart… it is so much easier than you think!

Below are two preparations (or three if you include the grill pan). I greatly prefer grilling to impart a smoky flavour – oven roasting is great if you don’t have a day or two to marinate. The grill is great for backyard summer chillin’ with friends and a cooler of Red Stripe. Feel free to double or triple this, it’ll disappear faster than you think. Whichever way you go, have lots of napkins on hand!

*If you are really wary of using scotch bonnets then try a de-seeded jalapeño or chilli to keep the peppery flavour and decrease the heat a touch.

 

Jerk Marinade

1 bunch of green onions (about 6 or 7), roots remove, chopped

4 garlic gloves

3″ piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

1-2 scotch bonnet peppers, stem and seeds removed*

1/4 cup cilantro, packed

2 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp packed brown sugar

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp each – allspice, thyme, curry powder

1 tsp each – ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder, cinnamon, ground ginger

1/4 water

1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces or spatchcocked or 6-8 pieces

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

if using oven: honey

 

Using a grill or grill pan:

Divide the marinade in 2 half for marinade and half for sauce. Slather you chicken in the marinade making sure it is all covered, then leave in the fridge for 12 – 48 hours turning once.

When ready to cook: Remove from marinade and wipe with papertowels, allow to air dry for about 20 minutes. Prepare your grill or pan: Make sure it is clean and lightly oiled, then heat to medium. Grill until juices run clear flipping often so the skin doesn’t stick or burn – there is a lot of sugar in this marinade, so flare ups happen. In the last couple minutes on the grill, baste with some of the remaining sauce. Remove and let rest about 10 minutes. Serve with more sauce on the side.

If using the oven:

Preheat you oven to 400F. Rub your chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a pan to high heat and place the chicken with the skin side down to get crisp and brown. Remove. Pour your sauce into a baking dish that all the chicken pieces will lay flat in. Move the chicken to a baking dish skin side up and drizzle with some honey. Place in the upper 3rd of your oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with sauce spooned over top.

To serve: I like this with some simple roasted potatoes to dip in the extra sauce, but it’s also great over rice and beans. Add some cooling slaw, corn and a few skewers of grilled pineapple or fresh mango.

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