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Quarantine Cuisine: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Unless you've been living under a rock, y'all know that things are getting bad out there again with the virus. For this and mental health reasons, I found myself canceling my August trip plans and retreating to Mom's in Iowa before the school year starts. Mom and I are both fully vaccinated, of course, but given the penchant of Iowans to not wear masks, and the horrible transmissibility of this variant, we are once again limiting our public exposure.

Therefore, back to the Quarantine Cuisine series!

Good food abounds during these at-home periods, but I was particularly excited to make a proper run at jerk chicken. I tried this during the summer of last year, but it turned out horribly, so I sought out another recipe and cooking method for the chicken and set out to the store.

Echo Dell Farms is just 30 miles from Mom's place and produces some of the most beautiful, pasture-raised, organic, nonsense-free birds. NewPi, the grocer closest to my heart in Iowa, sells Echo Dell's chickens, so I selected a smaller one for our jerk chicken.

Most blogs, recipes, etc. that I read told me that the best way to prep jerk chicken is a whole chicken prepped in a method called "spatchcock." Essentially, this is the prime way to cook a chicken over the grill, because it flattens the chicken and allows for an even cook.

I won't show you photos of the gory details, but the technique requires kitchen shears and a sharp knife. With the kitchen shears, breast-side down, find the spine and cut down each side of the spine from neck to tail, as close as you can to the spine. Remove the spine and open up the bird, and find a little piece of cartilage at the top of the breast plate. Cut into this vertically about a quarter inch deep and push the two sides of the bird apart, then flip it over so it sits flat. If you need a guide, just Google for excellent YouTube tutorials, like this one. See the final result of my first spatchcocking below!

The marinade is full of all kinds of spicy, delicious things, including onion, green onion, garlic, coarsely-ground allspice berries, Chinese five spice, nutmeg, and thyme. The key, though, are spicy peppers called Scotch bonnets. Sadly, Scotch bonnets are not common in Iowa markets, but a habanero, while not precisely consistent with the somewhat fruity profile of a Scotch bonnet, has about the same level of heat, and Mom had a couple of habaneros growing in her pepper patch. To compensate for the less fruity pepper, I added a bit of lime juice to the mix.

In the food processor, I combined the ingredients until a paste had formed, and then, in a steady stream, added soy sauce and a touch of oil. This makes a more liquid marinade, which you can slather over the spatchcocked chicken in a Ziploc bag, and place in the fridge overnight to absorb all the spicy goodness.

Once it was time to grill, I took the chicken out and let it sit for 30 mins at room temp, lighting the grill and turning one side to medium heat, and laying the chicken out, flat-side-down, on the side without flame. Indirect heat is a good idea for chicken, because it prevents the toughness that can happen on the outer parts of the bird when exposed to direct heat, and therefore ensures an even cook. I cooked in the indirect heat, rotating from time to time, for about 45 minutes, until the thighs read 160 degrees and the breast 150 degrees, at which point I flipped the bird and cooked the skin over high direct heat for crispy, brown goodness.

The result was beautiful, and I let it rest for about ten minutes under foil. I then sliced the breast in half, resulting in a half chicken for me and a half chicken for mom. I also made some rice in the instant pot with coconut milk and served with some lime slices.

This was one of the best things I have made. I was afraid the marinade would be too spicy, since my eyes essentially bled when I opened the food processor while blending it, but it was perfect, and the allspice carried it. Only way it could have been better is if I had the chance to smoke the chicken over pimento wood, the authentic way to make jerk chicken!

This is an easy, healthy, immensely flavorful dinner. I marvel at folks that are content with flavorless, dry chicken. I see so many people, particularly fitness/health nut types, that eat a lot of chicken and rice, but it looks so miserably bland. This is equally as healthy as that, with gobs of flavor in every bite. Why cook unremarkably when you can make something like this? This will definitely go in my regular rotation!

Wine to cook by: Spicy food? Go with Austro-German varietals. A touch of sweetness is great with spice, and the acidity in these grapes make the wines friendly with all sorts of food. I visited my buddy Traci at 1st Avenue Wine House in Cedar Rapids and had her choose from her already very curated selection. She picked a mostly dry Riesling from Rheinhessen in Germany, called "Elektrisch," and electric it was! Zippy grapefruit and green apple with some honeyed body. Delicious pairing!

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