Words by Lisa Featherby
Guaranteed to get a chuckle around the barbecue, "jerk chicken" is up there with spotted dick as a conversation-starter. But to paraphrase Bob Marley, don't let it fool you. The name of this hot and spicy Jamaican marinated meat dish is thought to derive from the Quechua word "charqui", which refers to meat preserved by curing and drying. From "charqui" we get "jerky" and "jerk". (Some believe prodding or jerking the meat to help the spices permeate is also key to the origin of the name.)
Jamaica's indigenous Arawak people used the technique for thousands of years to preserve meat. The evolution continued when Maroons, Africans who were brought to Jamaica as slaves, contributed their own method of smoking food in fire pits in the ground.
Pork and chicken are the preferred meats for the job, and the aromatics and spices with which they're rubbed typically include allspice and Scotch bonnet chillies. (Scotch bonnets aren't readily available in Australia, so we've substituted the habanero, a chilli of similar heat and flavour, in our recipe.)
Jerk definitely isn't jerk unless it's barbecued, ideally over wood, and in a perfect world over the wood of the allspice tree. In Jamaica, oil drums serve as makeshift barbecues, but any barbecue, makeshift or otherwise, is suitable.
One thing's certain: Jamaican jerk survives the test of time through flavour above all.
- 125 ml white wine vinegar (½ cup)
- 125 ml dark soy sauce (½ cup)
- 1 Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 5 spring onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
- 2 tbsp coarsely chopped thyme
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ tbsp allspice
- 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 habanero chilli, seeds removed, coarsely chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 chicken (about 2kg), jointed
- 360 ml coconut milk
- 200 gm long grain rice
- 1 spring onion, bruised, plus extra, thinly sliced, to serve
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1 habanero chilli
- 200 gm drained canned red kidney beans, rinsed
- ½ pineapple, finely diced
- 2 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
- 1 tbsp brown sugar, or to taste
- 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
- To serve: coriander
- 1For jerk chicken, process ingredients (except chicken) in a food processor until smooth. Combine with chicken in a non-reactive container, toss to coat, cover and refrigerate overnight to marinate.
- 2Preheat a kettle barbecue or char-grill pan to medium and cook chicken, turning and basting occasionally with marinade, until cooked though (20-25 minutes), cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest (5-10 minutes).
- 3Meanwhile, for coconut rice, bring coconut milk, rice, bruised spring onion, thyme, chilli and 150ml water to the boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover with a tightly fitting lid, reduce heat to low and cook until almost cooked through (10-15 minutes). Add beans, cook until rice is tender (3-5 minutes). Remove from heat, stand until required, discard spring onion, thyme and chilli, then scatter with sliced spring onion just before serving.
- 4Meanwhile, for pineapple relish, combine ingredients in a bowl. Just before serving, scatter with coriander. Serve with jerk chicken and coconut rice.
For the best flavour, cook the chicken in a kettle barbecue. Otherwise, you can use a char-grill pan. You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead.