Chicken legs are marinaded in scotch bonnet chillis and sweet, aromatic spices before roasting. This Gluten-free and Paleo recipe tingles with fruity heat.
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.
Tips & Tricks
- 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
- 4 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), bone in and skin on (about 330g each)
- 1-2 scotch bonnet chillis (depending on how hot you like it!), stalks removed and quartered
- thumb-sized pieces of root ginger (20g), peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 100g spring onions (about 6), ends trimmed and roughly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves only (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 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
- 2 tablespoons (35g) runny honey
- 1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice (about 1 small orange)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil / neutral-tasting oil
- 1/4 cup (60ml) white wine vinegar
- 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.
- Put the fresh ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor (scotch bonnet chilli, fresh ginger, garlic, spring onion and thyme). Blitz until smooth. If the paste needs loosening up, add a bit of the olive oil.
- Add the ground allspice to the food processor, and the remaining paste ingredients (cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper, honey, olive oil, orange juice 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 to brown the skin. When done, the juices should run clear and an internal meat thermometer should read 75°C/165°F.
- 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.
- 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.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour over the sauce.