Spicy chicken helps you mellow out

It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I made jerk chicken.

I know that because I made it for my husband’s pirate-themed 40th birthday party and well, this coming June, he’s hitting another milestone.

That was some party. I decided to do all the cooking for 30 people. Huh, now I know catering is not my vocation. I was so tired by the time the first guests arrived that I could barely throw the leis around their necks. And, as usual, the weather refused to cooperate. We could have sailed a pirate ship down the road during the deluge, but everyone gamely huddled under tents or crowded into the kitchen and den.

But that was some chicken, too. When the plan to grill it got washed out, It just got chucked into the oven, and kept warm on a buffet. You have to love a versatile dish.

Don’t get me wrong, making jerk chicken is labor-intensive with all that spice, and chopping and marinating. But the way the oil and vinegar turn even the scrawniest of chickens into a tender, moist, sweet and spicy bite of the islands is worth it.

For a little while last year, a couple ran a Caribbean take out joint just up the street. The curries, pili  pili and jerk chicken were outstanding. Unfortunately, like many mom-and-pop places, they folded quickly. So, to get my island fix, I’ll have to start slinging some spices.

I’ll admit, I don’t like food that makes me cry, so I don’t use anything stronger than pickled banana peppers in my jerk spice. You can even use the jarred, chopped sub sandwich pepper mix. I know those who love nuclear heat say that only Scotch bonnet peppers will do for authentic Jamaican cuisine. Well, y’all have fun donning gloves to chop and seed those lethal monsters. If you want that blistering heat, substitute 1/2 of a Scotch bonnet pepper for the banana peppers. And don’t rub your eyes.

Jerk Chicken

Marinate the chicken at least 6 hours before cooking. Overnight marinating is great too.

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 Tbsp. lime juice

1 Tbsp. ground allspice

1 Tbsp. whole allspice berries (dried)

2 tsps. salt

2 tsps. ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 large sprigs of fresh thyme

5 green onions (green part only), chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup of pickled banana peppers, drained and chopped

8 pieces of skin-on chicken, white or dark meat

Combine everything but the chicken in a gallon-size zipper bag. Seal and shake to thoroughly blend the ingredients. Add the chicken to the bag and marinate 6 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Turn the bag and give it a quick massage two or three times during the marinating.

To bake the chicken, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a roasting pan with cooking spray. Place the oven racks in the middle and top of the oven. Put the chicken and marinade in the pan, and cover tightly with foil. Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. To brown the chicken, either move the chicken to the top rack of the oven and bake another 8-10 minutes, or place it under the broiler. Either way, turn the chicken once during the process. Strain the marinade to remove the allspice berries and thyme before serving.

You can grill the chicken for 15-18 minutes over medium-high heat, while basting it with the marinade.

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