We’re already heading into the hottest months of the year here in Thailand and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than cooking up a fiery Jamaican Jerk. It’s hot, its ‘spicy, it’s smokin, and it’s a sure bet for breaking into a sweat that’s going to cool you right down Jamaica style!
I realize you all who live further north are still getting battered by some fierce late winter storms, but what better way to escape winter’s travails than chowing down on a seriously hot and lively Jamaican Jerk. Hold onto that thought! This is the kind of in your face spirited food that interjects a partying mood with every mind blowing bite anytime of the year!
Jerk refers to the local Jamaican cooking methods as well as the spice mixture, including locally grown allspice, that is used as a rub or marinade that seasons the chicken or pork before cooking. The allspice tree is an evergreen shrub that grows throughout the Greater Antilles, Southern Mexico, and Central America. The wood is used for cooking and smoking while the allspice berries (pimento) are dried, ground and combined with other spices for the Jamaican Jerk rub or marinade.
Jamaican jerk evolved using cooking methods brought to the island by enslaved Africans combined with indigenous Taino traditional pit roasting. Once metal barrels arrived on the island, vertical barrels were adapted for grilling and smoking the jerk simultaneously. Eventually barrel cookery was reinvented by splitting the barrel horizontally. The bottom half of the barrel is stoked with charcoal and fired up. The hot embers are then topped with allspice wood or sweet wood (laurel). The chicken or pork is then placed on top of the smoldering wood. The upper half of the barrel is then pulled down to create an intense chamber of aromatic smoke emitting from the red hot embers and smoldering wood. This combination of flavors and aromas is what makes Jamaican Jerk so unique and popular in Jerk joints on the island as well as in Jamaican enclaves in the US, Canada, the UK, and other Caribbean islands.
The other essential ingredient for any authentic Jamaican jerk is the island’s notoriously hot Scotch Bonnet chilies! These chilies have a distinct fruity flavor, but it is their 100,000 Scoville units of spicy heat that ranks them as the hottest chilies on the planet! But don’t let that scare you off. Risk is, after all, the very spice of life!
The recipe that follows is for Jamaican jerk chicken for the home cook. Obviously home cooks are not going to have a barrel cooker or maybe not even a grill for that matter. Not to worry! The oven method that follows will deliver an authentic mahogany colored Jamaican Jerk scented with allspice and sweet wood (bay laurel) that you will be proud to serve and a sure fire crowd-pleaser to use year round.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken serves 4
Prepare the marinade mixture and marinate the chicken for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours before roasting.
Scotch bonnet chilies will be hard to find unless you happen to live near a Jamaican enclave. If they are not available, Habanero chilies are very similar and available in Latino markets. Otherwise using a combination of hot Thai chilies will nicely replicate the flavor and heat of the Scotch Bonnet chilies.
You can use a whole chicken with backbone removed, a chicken cut into pieces, legs and thighs only, or just skin on breasts. Breasts in particular, using this cooking method, are beautifully succulent and juicy.
For the marinade/rub:
- 2-4 Scotch Bonnet chilies or Habanero chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- If Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies are not available, use 2 yellow Thai chilies and 6-8 red and/ or green Thai chilies, seeds removed and chopped
- 6 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely ground bay leaves (ground in an electric spice mill)
- 3 tablespoons natural dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Using a food processor or blender, combine the chilies, scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, and brown sugar. Pulse until the mixture is well combined and nearly pureed.
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, rum, and soy sauce until well combined. With the food processor or blender running add the liquid mixture until well combined.
Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream until just incorporated.
Add the salt and pulse to mix. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Transfer the marinade to a non-reactive bowl or tray large enough to hold the chicken and set aside.
You can either poke holes into the chicken using a skewer or, if using breasts, slash the underside of the breasts with a very sharp knife on the diagonal. This will allow the marinade to penetrate deeply into the flesh.
Massage and press the chicken into the marinade until completely covered. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you intend to roast.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/ 245 c
Select a deep roasting pan and a rack that will fit into the roasting pan snugly.
- ½ cup broken bay laurel leaves
- ¼ cup allspice berries or
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- ½ cup water
Scatter the bay leaves evenly over the bottom of the roasting pan. Top evenly with the allspice berries or ground allspice. Add the water to the pan and place the rack into the pan. Transfer to the preheating oven.
Once the oven is up to the required heat, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Shake off excess marinade from the chicken and place the chicken onto the hot rack skin side down. Promptly return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, transfer the remaining marinade to a sauce pan and reduce until the marinade is the consistency of a paste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
After 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken over, skin side up. Baste generously and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes. Then open the oven and baste the chicken once again. Turn the pan to ensure even roasting and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes. The chicken should have an almost mahogany charred color. Do not be concerned. The chicken has not burned, the brown sugar has merely darkened the marinade during roasting.
Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Traditionally Jerk is served with rice and beans, and sometimes with a spicy fruit salsa as pictured. Be sure to spoon pan juices over the chicken before serving.
Any tropical fruit salsa laced with chilies adds a fresh sweetness to the sliced jerk chicken.
Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.
Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.
Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.
For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!
Paella Mixta: serves 12
Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).
As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.
Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)
- 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
- 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
- 3 tablespoons white wine
- ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
- 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
- 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
- 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
- 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
- 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
- 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
- 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
- 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
- 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
- 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
- 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
- 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped flat leaf parsley
- fresh lemon wedges
- aioli, (recipe below)
Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.
Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.
Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.
Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.
Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c
At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.
Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to
color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.
Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.
Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.
With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.
Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.
Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.
Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.
At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.
Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.
If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.
Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.
Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.
Aioli: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup olive oil
- 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.
With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
I have been a great fan of Rick Stein’s varied food oriented travel series over the years. His curios nature and infectious passion for regional foods combined with simple cooking methods makes for compelling viewing that has you itching to get right into the kitchen and do some newly inspired cookery of your own.
His recipe for Sumac Roasted Chicken from Turkey appeared in Rick Stein, From Venice to Istanbul which aired in 2015. I have cooked similar recipes in the past (see here), but with a stash of Sumac and pomegranate molasses already on hand I was raring to give Rick’s recipe a try.
Sumac is a wild shrub that grows thought the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sumac’s deep red berries are dried and ground into a powdered seasoning with an assertive citrus like flavor. Sumac is also combined with other herbs and seeds for another popular regional seasoning mix called za’atar (See here). Both are ideal seasonings for various salads, grilled vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and stews. Also an ideal finishing flourish for hummus (see here) and muhamara (see here) that I like to serve along with this dish.
Sumac is available at Middle Eastern shops and online.
For the recipe that follows I have made a few adjustments that ramp up the flavors a bit, but otherwise true to the regional recipe. I like serving it with a simple cooked Bulgar wheat with fried onions and red peppers along with a side of zesty hummus or muhammara to compliment the chicken.
Sumac Roasted Chicken serves 4 to 5
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken or 5 skin on breasts
- olive oil for drizzling
- sesame seeds
Rinse the chicken well, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces. If you are using chicken breasts, slice the breasts in half crosswise.
If you are using a whole chicken, rather than discarding the backbone and trimmings why not make a stock for cooking the bulgur and for the marinade.
Place the backbone and trimmings in a stock pot and fill with water. Add a chopped onion, 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the stock has reduced by a little more than half.
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1/3 teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken stock
Combine all the marinade ingredients except the stock in a non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Stir until all the ingredients are completely combined. The consistency of the marinade will be quite thick and sticky. Ideally you want the marinade to stick to the chicken, but you might want to thin it out just a bit with a little chicken stock.
If you are squeamish you may want to use disposable plastic cloves for massaging the marinade into the chicken pieces, otherwise use your bare hands as I do. Take your time and press the marinade into each piece of chicken and patting it over the surface so it sticks to the flesh.
Once all the marinade coated chicken is in the bowl compress it so the marinade reaches every crevasse. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 205 c
Select a baking pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding. Lightly oil the dish and place the marinated chicken skin side up in the pan. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken and spread it out evenly. Scatter sesame seeds over the chicken and lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The chicken and sesame seeds should be nicely colored and the chicken just done. If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes before serving.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or several pieces of chicken onto each individual plate. Add a generous portion of warm bulgur and a good dollop of hummus or muhammara.
Dia de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations, albeit different, will both be in full swing next week on both sides of US Mexican border. I have many fond memories of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico as well as in the US sate of New Mexico. The custom of a gathering of family and friends to celebrate together with the spirits of the departed dates back to pre-Columbian cultures in Central America. Typically paths are lined with marigolds to guide the living and the departed to candle lit fiestas held in cemeteries where local foods abound, beer and tequila flows freely, and corridos ballads thread though the air until the wee hours of the morning.
For more on Dia de los Muertos and a recipe for a Mexican roasted Pumpkin Soup (click here).
This time of year is also chile harvest season and what better way to use freshly picked green chilies than in a hearty Sopa de Maiz y Chile Verde Con Pollo. Mexican in origin but also a classic in Northern New Mexico where the New Mexico chiles reign supreme. A perfect offering for a Dia de los Muertos supper!
In Mexico fresh green poblano chilies would be used for this soup. In New Mexico Roasted fresh green New Mexico chilies would be used. If neither are available where you live use fresh green jalapeños which, when flame roasted, have a wonderful full bodied flavor and robust heat.
If you live in the US frozen flame roasted New Mexico green chilies are an alternative, though expensive. They are available online
As tempting as canned green chilies might be, I would suggest avoiding them. They are virtually tasteless.
Sopa de Maiz y chile Verde con Pollo ( Corn and Green Chile Chicken Soup) makes 2 ½ quarts
For the chicken: Ideally, cook the chicken the day before you plan to make the soup.
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 3 celery ribs, diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to the pot to generously cover the chicken. Add the onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the chicken for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set both the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated.
Toss all the bones into the stock pot and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container with the lid and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 celery ribs, finely diced
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, roasted in a dry skillet until lightly colored, skin removed, and minced
- 2 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 2 ears of corn, husks and silk removed, and grilled
- 4-5 fresh New Mexico green chilies ( or 3 large fresh green poblano chilies, or 6-8 fresh green jalapeno chilies) flame roasted, skin and seeds removed, and cut into thin strips and diced
- 2 cups home cooked white beans (or canned), drained
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
- ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves crumbled
- 1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
Place the olive oil and butter in a stock pot set over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the butter is melted and combined with the oil. Add the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and cook, stirring now and again until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 20 minutes.
Add the garlic and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Then add the stock. Once the stock begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, adding the beans after 15 minutes. Be sure to stir from time to time so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup is simmering, grill the whole corn cobs over an open flame until the kernels are evenly colored and a deeper yellow. Then cut the kernels off the cob and set them aside in a bowl to use later.
Scrape the cobs with the back of a pairing knife to extract the corn milk from the cobs and transfer the scrapings to the simmering stock pot.
Likewise, while the soup continues to cook flame roast the chilies until the skins are evenly blistered. Transfer them to a bowl, seal with cling film, and let them sweat until cool enough to handle. Then slip off the blistered skin. Cut the chilies in half, remove the seeds and veins, slice into strips, and cut the strips into half inch pieces and set aside.
Once the ingredients in the stock pot are cooked remove the pot from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Then blend the contents of the pot with a hand held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth.
Return the pot to to the stove top set over medium heat and add the corn kernels, green chilies, oregano, marjoram, sage, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook the soup for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently as the pureed beans would otherwise settle to the bottom of the pot and scorch.
Put the pulled boiled chicken in a pot with a cup or so of water and reheat until the chicken is hot.
Taste the soup broth and in the stock pot and add salt as needed. Stir in the parsley and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the hot pulled chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer just before you are ready to serve.
- dried red chile rajas (strips)
- tostada corn chips
- sour cream
- lime wedges
To make the dried red chile rajas, place 8 dried red chilies in a dry skillet set over medium low heat. Using a metal spatula, press the chilies
against the bottom of the skillet briefly then flip them and repeat, then promptly remove them from the skillet to a cutting board.
While they are still warm and pliable, cut the chilies in to very thin strips lengthwise. Then halve the strips crosswise. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan and briefly fry the rajas and set them aside to cool.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Stick several tostatda chips around the chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream in the center and scatter the red chile rajas over the sour cream. Serve with fresh lime wedges placed on the table.