Jerk chicken is a delicious Jamaican dish, perfect for cooking on the grill. With an aromatic marinade, and a little or a lot of spice, it's full of flavor and this recipe makes it easy too!
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Where I grew up had a limited range of international foods, at the time - we got Indian and Chinese food and not much else. It was only when I went to university in Bristol that I came across Caribbean food and instantly loved it.
There's an area of the city that has a fairly large Caribbean population which holds an annual carnival with lots of music and, of course, food. Plantains, Jerk chicken and curried goat were all things I was happy to dive in to (and still am).
What are the main flavors in jerk chicken?
Jerk chicken is a classic Jamaican dish, with the core flavors being allspice and chili. I've made this version a little more 'family friendly' by reducing the heat - using cayenne pepper rather than the traditional Scotch bonnet pepper - but you can easily substitute back in the chili if you'd prefer the heat of the traditional dish.
Other core flavors in the marinade are lime, garlic, ginger and onion. Traditionally, you'd start with whole spices and grind them, and that does indeed generally give a deeper flavor, but I've gone for a slightly quicker take here.
How to make jerk chicken
Jerk chicken is really easy to make:
- Roughly chop the larger marinade ingredients (onion, garlic and ginger).
- Blend up tall he marinade ingredients.
- Rub over the chicken and marinade for a good few hours.
- Grill the chicken and serve.
If you prefer not to or can't grill, then you can also bake the chicken in the oven. However with a grill pan, it helps get some of those delicious grill flavors in there along with all the spice. You'd typically make this with chicken on the bone, but I have used boneless thighs as they are both quicker to cook and easier to eat.
See how it comes together in the short video!
I searched through a number of recipes before deciding what exactly to add. While I have ended up using a fairly broad range of spices in here, this is to keep closer to the more traditional flavors. Plus, I am always one for adding things like cinnamon and nutmeg so I wasn't going to miss them out.
It might seem a list, but it's all easy to put together. I've stuck to ground spices to make things easier. You can also grate the ginger, garlic and onion if you don't have a blender that will work with a relatively small quantity. Alternatively, just chop them all pretty small as a slight texture won't matter.
Apparently it's barbecue month, so this seemed like the perfect way to kick things off. Jerk chicken is full of fantastic flavor and takes on that great taste only a barbecue can give. (I've got a vegetarian grill meal balance things out too! My Cuban quinoa bowl is worth trying.)
You can have this with a range of sides, but some of the more traditional are grilled corn and coconut rice, as we had, or peas/beans and rice as well as grilled or fried plantain. For a great taste of summer, this is the way to go.
Looking for more tasty marinated meats? Try these!
- Chicken satay with peanut sauce
- Sosaties (South African curry and apricot skewers)
- Grilled chicken gyros with tzatziki
- I've also still got curried goat on my to-make list and Immaculate Bites' recipe looks worth a try.
- Plus get more ideas for mains, sides and more in the summer recipes archives.
Jamaican jerk chicken
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp ginger approx a 1in/2.5cm piece
- ½ red onion small, or around 3-4 scallions/spring onions
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 lime juice and zest ie from 1 lime
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper for mild, or 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, stem removed, for hot
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1.5 lb boneless chicken thighs 700g, approx, 4-6 thighs
- If using a blender/small food processor, peel the garlic, ginger and onion then put in the machine with the allspice, thyme, soy sauce, honey, lime, cayenne/chili, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend until fairly smooth. Alternatively chop the garlic, ginger and onion finely or grate them them mix with the other ingredients.
- Pour the marinade mixture over the chicken thighs. Make sure the chicken is well covered and leave refrigerated overnight or for at least 8 hours.
- Grill over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through, around 10 minutes on each side, turning every few minutes to avoid them sticking.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
This post was originally published in May 2015 and has been updated primarily with new photos and video.