After being gone for a month with spotty internet access, it’s good to be back in the kitchen cooking and working on new recipes. The trip to Jamaica for five days, and then three weeks in New Zealand (with one day apart to change out luggage!) have given me new ideas for food and recipes so stay tuned! Here is the first post trip post – real Jamaican Jerk Chicken.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Tender, lip-smacking, and sinus-draining, Jamaican Jerk chicken is famous for a good reason: it’s delicious. It’s one of the great barbecue chicken traditions of the world. Once wary of trying it because of its super spicy reputation, we fell in love with it on our recent trip to the Caribbean. The resort chefs shared their secrets to making it.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Clad in swim suits and sun burns, a long line of people snaked down the sandy path in front of a colorful little beach shack at the Hyatt Ziva in Montego Bay. The sign read Barefoot Jerkz. With stomachs growling for lunch, we got in line.
When our turn came, the chef pulled pieces of grilled chicken from the barbecue grates, swiftly chopped it into pieces and scooped it into a paper dish. Squeeze bottles of fiery Jerk and barbecue sauces stood waiting to complete lunch. My nose was soon running. It was hot but terrific. I could breathe so well after lunch!
The chicken was tender and moist with a light smoky flavor. The Jerk sauce was a blend of warm spices and fruity sweet heat all at the same time. It was so good, we ate lunch there three days in a row.
Thankfully there are relatively mild expressions of Jerk sauce that us heat wimps can take. Still, I had to mix the Jerk sauce half and half with barbecue sauce and still eat lunch packet of tissues by my side.
The long hours, hard work and dedication my husband put in last year paid off with a company rewards trip to Jamaica to the waterfront Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a great place to stay. Everything was included and they had 16 restaurants to choose from when you got hungry
The Hyatt Ziva is ocean front on the azure waters of the Caribbean with a gorgeous pool and sandy beaches. Jamaican music went all day and friendly resort staff were helpful and smiling, ready to deliver tropical libations for thirsty guests. They sure made good Mai Tai’s!
The Brazilian Steakhouse
Our first night, the team gathered to celebrate at the Hyatt’s Brazilian steakhouse called a Churrascaria. Servers artfully wielded huge skewers of grilled meats and carved off portions of whatever you wanted right onto your plate. The food was terrific and the highlight for me was the Jerk chicken. I headed directly to the kitchen and asked for the chef.
Chef Kevon graciously took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk with me about how to make their Jamaican Jerk chicken. Not wanting to take too much of his time, I asked to meet with him later in the trip for a longer conversation where I could take notes.
The Secret to Jamaican Jerk Chicken
The Hyatt’s culinary team was happy to answer my questions about Jerk chicken. They told me the secret to Jerk chicken is in the marinade, a combination of ginger, garlic, allspice, soy sauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, onion, scallions, thyme, salt, pepper, oil and the smokin’ hot Carribbean Scotch Bonnet pepper. Ingredients that mostly grow on the island.
Place all of the ingredients into a blender of food processor and puree, then use part as the marinade and part as the sauce. They start the chicken in the oven and finish it on split steel drum barbecues or grills with pimento wood from the allspice tree.
One thing unique about Jerk chicken, it’s grilled over wood from the allspice tree, also called pimento. Pimento wood gives the chicken an aromatic, smoky quality.
If you want to try grilling over allspice (pimento) wood for even more authentic Jerk, here is where you can get it in the US (thanks to reader Jodi for the tip), at Exotic Wood Chips. They sell pimento the wood chips and other things for Jerk. For another fruity wood option, try applewood, which might be more readily available.
A Quick Lesson on Hot Peppers
For reference, Scotch Bonnet peppers rate from 100,000 – 350,000 points on the Scoville heat scale. They are 12 to 140 times hotter than a Jalapeño pepper. Yeah, they are hot, REALLY HOT, so go easy if you are a heat wimp like I am.
Scotch Bonnet peppers have a slight sweet, fruity taste and they are closely related to the Habanero pepper in taste, for reference. If you can’t find Scotch Bonnet peppers, use Habanero peppers.
The Hyatt’s original recipe calls for 6 Scotch Bonnet peppers in a single batch of marinade. I plan to start with 1 and build the heat up to find my tolerance level. You might want to do the same. (Update note – I make it with 3 now).
Another notes on peppers. They can vary widely on their heat level from pepper to pepper, from batch to batch, so starting with 1 and building up is a smart idea. Unless you just want to call the fire department.
Final Note – Making it at Home
After we got home I re-read the recipe they gave me and knew it just wasn’t right. We talked about oil, yet it was left off the recipe, and the amount of allspice listed was crazy, like 1/2 cup. So I adapted the recipe. On the hot peppers, I used 2-3 Habanero peppers. That was enough heat for us. Traditional would be Scotch Bonnet peppers but there were none available.
The first marinade was very thick. On the next batch I added fresh squeezed orange juice and lime juice, which thinned it out and added to the fruity flavor. A little dark rum might be a good experiment too, if you cook with spirits.
Mine did not come out exactly like what we had at the Hyatt, but it was fantastic and I will be making it throughout grilling season. Might have to order some of that pimento wood. Great flavors and spicy heat!
My sincere thanks to Chef Kevon, Chef Rafeek and Henry of the Hyatt Ziva in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the education on Jerk Chicken!