Caribbean Jerk Chicken

Jerk is a traditional Jamaican dish that involves marinading chicken or pork in a spice mix, before cooking over a charcoal fire and smoking with pimento wood from the allspice tree. Typical marinade ingredients include scotch bonnet chillies, allspice berries, thyme, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and spring onions. The result is a sweet and aromatic smokiness, tempering a warm punch of chilli.

Many recipes also include soy sauce, which adds a salty-umami flavour. As many people are unaware that soy sauce contains gluten, you need to be careful about ordering jerk when eating out if you are gluten-intolerant. You can replace the soy sauce with fish sauce for a similar effect, but I don’t find the flavour necessary amongst the aromatic spices and the fiery but fruity heat of scotch bonnet chillis.

Quick Tips
  • Push the marinade under the chicken skin – this allows the flavour to really penetrate the meat
  • Cook tented in tin foil – this traps the steam, allowing the chicken to cook evenly and stay succulent, and also stopping the spices from becoming burnt and bitter tasting
  • Brown the skin – removing the tin foil for the final 20 minutes caramelises the meat sugars on the surface, which develops the flavour
  • Leave to rest – this gives the muscle fibres time to relax and reabsorb the meat juices that get driven out during cooking. Otherwise the meat juices will run out and be lost when the meat is cut, resulting in tough, dry meat.
  • Skim off the oil – a greasy layer of fat is not appetising and dilutes the flavour
  • Reduce the sauce – this concentrates the flavour and creates a thick coating that clings to the meat rather than running off and pooling  at the bottom of the plate
serves cooking time
4 1 hour 35 minutes
Caribbean Jerk Chicken
Ingredients Instructions

meat ingredients:

  • 4 whole chicken legs, bone in and skin on (about 330g each)

fresh ingredients:

  • 2 scotch bonnet chillis
  • thumb-sized pieces of root ginger (20g), peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 spring onions, ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves only

dried ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

liquid ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice (about 1 orange)
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) light olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) white wine vinegar
  1. Make the marinade. Put the allspice berries into a spice grinder and grind until finely ground (if you do not have a spice grinder, then use a pestle and mortar or the small bowl of a food processor). Set aside.
  2. Put the fresh ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor (scotch bonnet chilli, garlic, fresh ginger, spring onion and thyme). Blitz until smooth. If the paste needs loosening up, add a bit of the olive oil.
  3. Add the ground allspice to the food processor, and the remaining paste ingredients (cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper, honey, orange juice, olive oil and white wine vinegar). Blitz until fully combined. You can make this marinade up to a month ahead of time, provided you keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  4. Marinade the chicken. Place the chicken legs in a non-reactive container such as a glass or ceramic dish. Use the tip of a small, sharp knife to make a small incision in the skin of each thigh, stopping before you reach the meat. Slide a finger into the incision and gently separate the skin from the meat, working slowly to stop the skin from tearing. Once you have created a pocket, spoon in some of the marinade. Massage from the outside to distribute evenly under the skin.
  5. Rub the remaining marinade all over the outside of the chicken. Cover, and leave to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
  6. Cook the chicken. The next day, remove the chicken legs from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, so they have time to come up to room temperature. Arrange skin-side up in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. Cover the whole dish snugly with a double layer of tin foil.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Cook the chicken for 1 hour. Remove the tin foil, and return to the oven to cook, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. When done, the juices should run clear and an internal meat thermometer should read 75°C/165°F.
  8. Reduce the sauce. Once the chicken legs are cooked, lift out and place on a plate, scraping off any marinade with a spatula. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes while you reduce the sauce, covered by a double layer of tin foil to keep warm.
  9. Meanwhile, pour the marinade into a saucepan. Wait for the oil to separate out and rise to the top. Tilt the pan, then lower in a metal spoon or ladle and scoop up the oil from the sides. Once all the fat has been skimmed off, heat over a high heat and boil rapidly until reduced to a thick sauce – about 15 minutes.
  10. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour over the sauce.


Caribbean Steamed Cabbage: (click title for recipe)
Sweet Potato Mash: (click title for recipe)
White Rice: Allow 75g per person. Cook 1 part rice (75g) to roughly 1.3 parts water (100ml), depending on the age and variety of rice. Put the rice, water and a good pinch of salt in a saucepan. Cover with a lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Stir once, then leave to cook undisturbed, until all the water has been absorbed by the rice – about 10-12 minutes. Removing the lid will cause the steam to escape, so if you want to check on how much water is left, simply tilt the pan and see how much water pools at the side (assuming you have a transparent pan lid!). When done, remove the lid and quickly cover with a clean tea-towel, before placing the lid back on top and leaving to stand for 5-10 minutes. This absorbs the steam, stopping condensation from dripping back into the rice and creating claggy rice.  Fluff up the rice grains with a fork and serve.

If you want to make rice and beans, then use the same cooking method but add cooked red or black beans at the beginning, and replace the water half with the bean cooking liquid, and half with full-fat coconut milk. You will need to slightly increase the ratio of liquid to rice, and the cooking time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *