Thursday prep, Friday enjoy: Jamaican jerk chicken

Going to Jamaica for the first time, I felt like I belonged. I had never felt so relaxed in my entire life. Even just getting off the plane. My aunt, Iris McKenzie, was still living there at the time. Going outside and breathing the air, I felt like I actually belonged there. I was able to relate to people’s mannerisms and how they do things. People would tell me I was weird, or quiet. I’m just easygoing. And that’s how it felt in Jamaica. I was able to relate. People were just outside making jerk chicken. My grandmother moved to San Francisco in 1986… she has been like a third parent. We would have porridge (what she’s eating now) for breakfast. We weren’t allowed to eat dessert cereals. Rice porridge, cornmeal porridge; sometimes she would make hominy corn. We’d also have salt fish and johnnycakes for breakfast, steamed green banana. I feel like, even though I was raised in San Francisco, we had more of a Caribbean upbringing, from my mom and my grandmother.

Jerk Chicken

Serves 8-10

3 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, stemmed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium green onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground nutmeg
4 sprigs fresh thyme, picked leaves and tender stems
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp white vinegar
120ml soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
8 whole chicken legs
rice, beans, and plantains, for serving

In a food processor, pulse the chilli, onions, green onions, garlic, black pepper, salt, allspice, nutmeg, and thyme into a coarse paste. Transfer the chilli mixture to a bowl and combine with the lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, and oil. (The mixture will be very spicy; be careful while han­dling, and work in a well-ventilated area.)


Place the chicken legs in a large glass dish and pour the jerk marinade on top, turning to com­pletely coat the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200?C/gas mark 6 and lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet. Put the marinated chicken on the pan and pour any remaining marinade over the top. Bake until the chicken is cooked through (a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 70?C) and lightly charred in spots, 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve with rice and beans and fried sweet plantains.


Extracted from We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream by Caleb Zigas and Leticia Landa (Chronicle Books, approx €25). Photographs by Eric Wolfinger.



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