Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Coconut Rice, and Aunt Ruth's Sauteed Squash

mmm...chicken :)

I've been making Jamaican Jerk Chicken for almost 20 years now...since well before it was trendy. My method is a little odd - hey, back in the early 90's you couldn't exactly buy jerk seasoning at the corner store or anything, so cut me some slack :). Odd though my method might be (really, does that surprise anyone ? I think not !), it's an absolutely delicious way of cooking chicken...even boring old boneless skinless chicken breasts. Ive been known to walk around neighborhood block parties handing out skewers of this stuff to very happy neighbors. (At least, no one's egged my house yet or anything....)

First, a little background.  The term "jerk" is thought to derive from the Spanish term charqui, which means dried meat. Jerk can refer to the method of cooking (traditionally, smoke cooking over charcoal) the spice blend used to season the meat, and/or the meat itself. Spices and smoking have both been used for centuries to preserve meat, and the original inhabitants of Jamaica (the Arawak Indians) developed a particularly tasty method of doing it...lucky for us !

Jerk seasoning mixes vary from cook to cook (as so many things do :) , but the two absolute musts are plenty of allspice and hot peppers. Scotch bonnet are the most traditional form of heat (and are seriously, seriously hot - handle with care !), but if you're feeding the not quite so daring (or the neighbors),  jalapenos or serranos work very well. Take it from me, keep a package of disposable gloves in your kitchen, and use them every time you work with hot peppers...keep them on until you wash everything they come in contact with. Your eyeballs, privates, and significant other will thank you !

There are two main methods of spicing your jerk : dry rub, and wet marinade. My method is definitely of the wet variety...very wet. The original recipe I based this on came out of an old issue of Food &Wine, and called for a most unusual quick method of "setting" the marinade : pour the marinade over the chicken in a covered, microwave-safe dish, cook on High for 90 seconds, and let sit for 10 minutes. Believe it or not, this does actually work...though nowadays we prefer to just throw the whole works in a bag and let it get happy in the fridge for a few hours, sans zapping. The original also called for boiling the leftover marinade in the microwave for one minute to make the sauce (necessary whenever reusing marinade to make sure there's no bacteria), but I kind of like letting it boil on the stovetop for 5 instead - easier to correct the seasonings, etc. Either method works.

Rice is the perfect accompaniment to this dish - especially Coconut Rice, which really brings out the Caribbean flavors. Add something green, and you are ready to rock and let's get jerkin' !

the whole shebang

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
(adapted from Food + Wine)

1 medium onion, halved (or 2 shallots)
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper OR 1 or 2 serranos OR 1-4 jalapenos (depending on how much heat you want), seeds and ribs removed
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tblsp brown sugar (I prefer dark here)
1 tblsp vegetable oil
2 tsp fresh ground allspice (if using pre-ground, up to a tablespoon or so)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds), pounded to a uniform thickness

Combine the onion (or shallots), garlic and peppers in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped . Add everything else but the chicken, and process to a sort of coarse puree (like applesauce). Place marinade and chicken into a large ziplock bag or bowl, and let marinade in fridge a few hours. (Alternatively, you can use the "quick set" method above.)

Prepare your grill - using wood chips for delicious smokiness, if you have that option - or preheat your broiler if you are grill-less. Grill or broil the chicken on both sides until done - it takes about 5 minutes a side on a normal grill or broiler, more if you are smoke-cooking (anywhere from 30-60 minutes total, depending on how high the temperature is). While the chicken cooks, boil the remaining marinade for 5 minutes (or microwave, as above) to make a lovely sauce to serve with the chicken. And rice. And whatever else you'd like it on :)

shallots and peppers ready to whirl (jalapeno option)

all chopped up
completed marinade

Coconut Rice

I mentioned this dish in my entry about dishes with two ingredients , but here's the actual method I use. I also will often tweak it a bit by throwing in a handful of coconut flakes to up the flavor, depending on how coconutty I feel. This is the perfect, perfect rice to have with anything spicy.

1 cup uncooked rice (Jasmati or jasmine preferred)
1 can coconut milk (light or regular both work fine), plus water to equal 2 1/2 cups
pinch of salt
1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional)
2 chopped scallions for garnish (optional)

Combine everything except scallions in saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir, then cover tightly and let simmer on lowest heat for 20 minutes. Take off heat, stir again, and let sit 5-10 minutes to absorb rest of liquid. Garnish with scallions.

Aunt Ruth's Sauteed Summer Squash

This dish is something my cousin Linda taught me to make many, many, MANY years ago...well before I was a semi-famous foodie :). She told me it was the way her mother always cooked it, and it's still one of the very best ways I know. Simple and soooo good.

2 smallish zucchini, sliced
2 yellow summer squashes, sliced
1/2 stick butter
your choice of green herb (I just used chopped fresh parsley this time, but be creative...basil, oregano, marjoram, a little tarragon, chives, dill...whatever you have around and/or are in the mood for !)

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium - medium-low heat. Add squash in one layer, and add salt and pepper (and dried herbs if using). Let slowly cook and slightly brown on one side, then turn over and let cook on the other side until done to your liking. Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking. 

a bunch of smoke-cooked meat...just because :)

1 comment:

  1. nice - very, very nice. I would be nicer if you came to my neighborhood and handed out jerk chicken...hint, hint! Well done :)