The first time I ate authentic jerk chicken I was on vacation in Jamaica with my younger sister, who was maybe nineteen at the time. After an evening of carousing we found ourselves hungry and asked at the front desk where we could get jerk chicken. They took one look at us and decided we needed a bodyguard to escort us to the jerk chicken mon. The bodyguard turned out to be a scrawny fourteen year old boy. He walked shyly next to us as we loudly flip flopped the two blocks to the makeshift barbecue drums. The wafting smell of caramelized sugar, dripping fat, and spices drew us in long before we saw the jerk mon. Jerk chicken in hand (my sister’s hand) we started the trek back to the hotel. Ten steps in my sister took a colossal wipeout and the chicken went down with her. As she lay spread-eagle on the sidewalk still clutching a takeaway container, our bodyguard tried as best he could to muffle his laughter. My sister came away from the incident with a skinned knee (and would get one on the other knee a few days later); fortunately, the chicken was left unscathed. I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked her for saving the chicken because once we got safely back to our hotel we soon entered chicken nirvana with the smoky, spicy, sweet goodness of the most amazing jerk chicken I have ever eaten. And so my love affair of all things jerk began.
I suppose I shouldn’t lead with a story about the most amazing jerk chicken ever because this isn’t it. That takes a trip to Jamaica, a recipe that’s been passed down for generations, a barbecue drum, and a heavy dose of liquor to enhance the dining experience. BUT, when it comes to jerk chicken made indoors, this ranks pretty high on the yumminess scale, so let’s call it pretty darn good jerk chicken, and that’s only one part of this fabulous meal.
The chicken finishes cooking atop Caribbean rice made with coconut milk, thyme, and allspice, a fabulous compliment to the chicken. Once the meal finishes cooking in the pot (yeah, you heard me. One pot of yumminess, one pot to clean; it doesn’t get much better than that), and then, in a move of pure decadence and deliciousness, it gets topped with island salsa- a blend of mango, pineapple, and avocado. This is a super flavorful one-pot meal that, once the chicken is marinated, is easy enough for a weeknight meal, yet with a definite ta-da factor perfect for company. With no last minute cooking, once it’s popped in the oven, you can socialize with your guests as delicious smells waft from your oven. Add rum punch, ginger beer, or Red Stripe and you have a meal fit for a party. I’ve omitted the scotch bonnet peppers and toned down the heat, so subtract the alcohol (or not) and it works for a kid’s party, such as my kebab variation that I served at my daughter’s Caribbean-themed birthday party. Want a little more authenticity? Then cook the rice separately and grill the chicken, preferably in a makeshift barbecue drum. So many options, and each one delicious. This is living, island-style.