Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jerk Chicken

To this day, the best jerk chicken I've ever had is from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Menlo Park called Back A Yard. (They opened a sister restaurant in Palo Alto called Coconuts, with a more extensive menu, but is it bad that I prefer the dingy place with 5 tables??) Their jerk is tender and garlicky and bursting with flavor. I literally get cravings for their chicken randomly since I've moved back to Chicago.

So when I saw the jerk chicken recipe in a recent edition of Cooks Illustrated I figured I'd give it a try. Maybe I could satisfy my Back a Yard craving once and for all!

Was my jerk chicken a success? Well, the answers are simple: no and yes. It all depends on your definition of success.

Taste of chicken (is greater than) quality of iPhone pic on a dark porch

Did my jerk chicken taste like Back a Yard's? Sadly, No. 
My jerk flavor profile was totally different. Less garlicky, but more other flavor-y. There were sooo many components to my jerk chicken that my tastebuds couldn't really decipher them individually. It's just a giant flavor party in your mouth.

Was my jerk chicken moist and flavorful and delicious? Hell yes!!!
Once in a while I decide to follow a semi-ridiculous Cooks Illustrated recipe from beginning to end. And this was one of those days. Spices upon spices, herbs upon herbs, peppers upon peppers, and spices upon wood chips (literally) makes this one of the most complex flavored dishes I've ever made. (Not complex to make, just complex in taste.)

Herbed wood chips added yet another dimension of grilled flavor

It's interesting, because I made this dish only a few short weeks after one of the best chicken dishes I've ever made (this Thai coriander chicken). And the boy blindsided me with a very interesting question: which chicken dish did I prefer? I had to stop for a moment, for it was such a difficult question to answer. This dish was so complex and unique and "smack-you-over-the-head" while the coriander chicken was simple yet flavorful and "homey". Ultimately I decided that while I preferred the coriander chicken as an "everyday" kind of dish, this was a bit more of a show-stopper.

I can love both of them, can't I?

Buen Provecho,

Jerk Chicken, from Cooks Illustrated

CI Notes: Traditional Jamaican jerk recipes rely on island ingredients for both marinade and cooking technique. Fortunately, we were able to achieve the characteristic spicy-sweet-fresh-smoky balance with the right combination of stateside staples. 

Keeping the marinade paste-like and cooking the meat first over indirect heat prevented the jerk flavors from dripping or peeling off during grilling. Enhancing our hickory chip packet with a few spice-cabinet ingredients allowed our jerk chicken recipe to mimic the unique smoke of authentic pimento wood. 

 For a milder dish, use one seeded chile. If you prefer your food very hot, use up to all three chiles including their seeds and ribs. Scotch bonnet chiles can be used in place of the habaneros. Wear gloves when working with the chiles. 

Jerk Marinade 
1 1/2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
8 scallions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest (3 limes) +
juice of 2-3 limes (this was my addition to this recipe after reading lots of other jerk recipes)
extra lime wedges, for serving
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 1/4teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 - 3 habanero chiles, stemmed, quartered, and seeds and ribs reserved, if using (I used 1.5 habanero chillies, without seeds and ribs, and it was spicy. My tip: add 1 chili without the seeds and ribs, then taste the marinade. If you want more heat, add more heat in the form of more chiles or the seeds. Remember, it's always easier to add spice than take it away...)

3pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs)

Wood chips
2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons water
1 cup wood chips, soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained

1. FOR THE JERK MARINADE: Grind coriander seeds, allspice berries, and peppercorns in spice grinder or mortar and pestle until coarsely ground. Transfer spices to blender jar. Add habanero(s), scallions, garlic, oil, soy sauce, lime zest, mustard, thyme, ginger, brown sugar, salt, basil, rosemary, and nutmeg and process until smooth paste forms, 1 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer marinade to gallon-size zipper-lock bag.

2. FOR THE CHICKEN: Place chicken pieces in bag with marinade and toss to coat; press out as much air as possible and seal bag. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while preparing grill, flipping bag after 15 minutes. (Marinated chicken can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

3. Combine allspice berries, thyme, rosemary, and water in bowl and set aside to moisten for 15 minutes. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips and moistened allspice mixture in foil packet and cut several vent holes in top.

4A. COOKING DIRECTIONS FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway. Arrange 1 quart unlit charcoal briquettes in single layer over half of grill. Light large chimney starter one-third filled with charcoal briquettes (2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over unlit briquettes, keeping coals arranged over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.

4B. COOKING DIRECTIONS FOR A GAS GRILL: Place wood chip packet over primary burner. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips begin to smoke, 15 to 25 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and turn off other burner(s).

5. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, with marinade clinging and skin side up, as far away from fire as possible, with thighs closest to fire and breasts furthest away. Cover (positioning lid vent over chicken if using charcoal) and cook for 30 minutes.

6. Move chicken, skin side down, to hotter side of grill; cook until browned and skin renders, 3 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken pieces and cook until browned on second side and breasts register 160 degrees and thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees, 5 to 12 minutes longer.

7. Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.


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