Jerk cooking is a style of cooking which originated in Jamaica but is now popular all over the world, particularly in the Carribean or in any place with a significant Carribean population. Fortunately South East London is one of those places so I have plenty of spots for inspiration! I first got a taste for jerk chicken at the Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street party in Europe and mecca for lovers of all things jerk. Jerk cooknig involves cooking meat, usually chicken or pork, in a spicy marinade over a barbeque or open fire. The two key ingredients which need to be included to call it jerk are dried Allspice (might be called pimento seeds in Caribbean shops) and Scotch Bonnett chillies, if you don't include these ingredients then don't call it jerk. After that, there is a lot of poetic license on what you can use. There is a bit of a debate over whether to use a dry rub or a wet rub, personally I prefer the wet rub as I think it results in far juicier meat after cooking.
This dish is best cooked over a charcoal barbeque with a lid (and ideally a thermostat), but if you don't have a barbeque you can cook it in the oven, it will still be delicious but you won't get that characteristically smoky jerk flavour. You'll need a decent sized barbeque for this quantity of chicken, if you don't possess this you'll have to cook in batches or reduce the recipe proportionally.
15 chicken legs (whole legs: drumstick and thigh still attached)
7 tablespoons dried whole allspice (also called pimento seeds)
7 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 teaspoons ground nutmeg
5 bay leaves
4 Scotch Bonnet Chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
10 spring onions chopped (or shallots if not available)
10 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 teaspoons fresh thyme
5 tablespoons rapeseed oil
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (white wine vinegar works too if this is not available)
10 tablespoons of dark rum
5 tablepoons orange juice
Juice of 3 limes
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Prep Time: 30 minutes (and marinading overnight)
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Serves: 5 - 15 People (it makes 15 chicken legs, gauge your crowd to figure out how many they are each likely to eat, I could easily put away 3 or 4 on my own!)
Add the dry ingredients to a food processor and blend until you have a smooth powder
Add the rest of the ingredients apart from the salt and blend until you have a smooth paste (salt will draw the moisture out of the chicken so it should be added just before cooking).
Put the chicken into a container, add the marinade and make sure to mix well.
Marinade the chicken overnight.
Just before cooking you can sprinkle the salt over the chicken and rub it in.
Get your barbeque fired up with a large pile of charcoal in one side of the barbeque (see photos for a guide)
You are not going to be cooking the chicken over the coals, you need to slow cook it to retain the moisture and flavour.
Once the coals are quite hot cook each piece of chicken for 3 minutes on each side over the hot coals before moving to the cooler side of the grill, repeat for the whole batch. This sears the outside and locks in all that juicy flavour.
Spread out the chicken but don;t place it directly over the coals.
You are going to do the rest of the cooking with the lid down, using the barbeque like an oven. Make sure to rotate the chicken and swap it round so each piece spends an equal amount of time closest to the coals (but not over them). This will ensure that everything cooks at the same pace.
The grill should be about 180 - 200c and at this temperature the chicken should cook in 35 - 40 minutes. If it is not so hot it will take longer and if it is hotter it may cook a little quicker, you'll have to undertake a little experimentation to get this right as all barbeques are different!
You need to make sure that the chicken is properly cooked before serving, the way I test is to use a meat cleaver to cut a leg in half at the knuckle, if it looks cooked all the way down to the bone then you should be good to go. If it is raw at all keep cooking and test another piece in a few minutes.
Once ready serve with your favourite sides and enjoy some of the best chicken you'll ever have!