Sam writes: Any tricks or suggestions for grilled jerk chicken? I’d like to make a batch next weekend for a cook-out.
Tony’s take: Hey, Sam. Thanks for the question! As I write (and eat) the recipe below, I feel moved (no, make that, obligated) to share a new revelation (or, at least, something I had forgotten): grilled jerk chicken (crisp, spiced, smoky) out-skins all other poultry players (the flavor-soaked coating of buffalo wings, the buttery crackle of a perfectly roast bird, and, yes, even the glazed exterior of a Chinese roast duck). I know – none of this pertains to your actual question, but for the skin alone, I would make jerk chicken. Now that my moment of sharing is out of the way, I do have ideas for jerk. They’re not particularly authentic (I’ve spent all of 1 week in Jamaica – I was young and my focus was on waterfalls, swimsuits, and curried meat pies), but I have made a bunch of different versions over the years and this is an amalgam of my favorites. Most of my jerk tricks, not surprisingly, center around the marinade. And grilling easy – so that the skin crisps and browns without burning. Irie, irie. -Mustard makes the marinade: It may not be traditional, but mustard smooths out the intensity of jerk’s assertive flavorings (fresh ginger, Scotch Bonnet pepper, garlic, fresh thyme, and allspice), concentrating their punch. Use whole-grain mustard; the seeds add flavor without getting in the way, as regular Dijon might.
–Prep ahead: A good marinade is as much about the time you allow it to do its thing as the actual flavorings. Two days of marinating is optimum. And use a food processor (or mortar and pestle if you’re so inclined); it purees the ginger and garlic into a smooth paste.
– A bed of vegetables…: Another revelation for me: wilting grilled vegetables with grilled meat. It’s a common thing with roasting: roast a whole chicken over a layer of vegetables so the two mix and meld. But setting the grilled chicken pieces (just as they come off the fire) on top of the vegetables for a couple of minutes before serving, allows all of their wonderful juices to soak into the veggies. It’s a small thing, but nice.
The recipe (serve 4)
1. Cut up the chicken: Cut up a whole chicken (about 4 lb) into 10 pieces (check out this video or this photo step-by-step, both from Fine Cooking and really well done). Rinse the chicken pieces under cold running water and then pat dry with paper towel.
2. Make the marinade: In a food processor or mini-chop, mix 1/4 cup whole-grain mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tbs. minced ginger, 1 Scotch bonnet pepper or habanero (chopped; leaves the seeds in if you’re feeling crazy), 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, 1 shallot (chopped), 2 minced cloves garlic (about 2 tsp.), and 1/2 tsp. allspice. Sprinkle the chicken first with 2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper and then coat with this spice paste. Marinate for 1 hour at room temp or up to 2 days in the fridge for best results.
3. Grill the chicken: Prepare a two-zone fire on a gas or charcoal grill with a medium-high and a low area. Set the chicken skin side down over the hot zone and grill until the skin browns but doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes. Flip, transfer to the cooler zone, cover the grill (with the vents open if you’re working with charcoal), and cook until the chicken browns all over and cooks through, 15 to 20 more minutes (slice into a thicker part of the thigh or check that it hits 165F on an instant read thermometer); the chicken should cruise along just fine over a low fire, but check often and lower the heat or nudge the bird to a cooler zone if it starts to burn. While you’re grilling the chicken, grill some red pepper, zucchini, and red onion. Set the grilled chicken on top of the grilled vegetables on a platter and serve, sprinkled with fresh cilantro and lime juice.