During my travels as a young girl to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, my parents loved experiencing everything and everyplace where the locals hung out. One spot we always made sure we stopped by, and sometimes twice per visit, was the Jerk Center. They had the absolute best Jamaican Jerk Chicken.
You can smell the spices as you approach the “restaurant.” Back then the "restaurant" was just a tin “roof” above the smoking meat. The turn off the road was into a dirt lot…I wonder if it had an actual street name or address! I don’t even remember if there was signage! Not your typical brick and mortar! It was word of mouth and those mouths were watering and burning with the delicious spices! The tables outside were placed under whatever shade you could find in that island heat! All these years later, it’s got a patio type structure...safe from the rains...which didn’t stop us in the past!
Although my dad is gone, my sweet mom still travels there about 4 times a year. Visiting all of their friends and making sure she stops by all the spots she did with my dad and all of us. They love when they hear she’s coming to town and are always so happy to see her. She insists on a picture and they happily oblige! Here she is with the owner of the Jerk Center. He loves reminiscing with her about his stories with my Dad.
You know how when you taste or smell something and your mind and heart wanders back to the past? The aromas of the Jerk Chicken spices capture the flavors of that beautiful island, bringing back wonderful memories. Be careful of the scotch bonnet (or habanero) peppers…the color is so beautiful, but the heat will sure get ya! And if you find the heat is unbearable whip up a pot of Island Coconut Rice. It’ll calm your tastebuds quicker than you think!
The first bite and it’s like I’m right back there...crashing waves in the background and Reggae music in the distance!
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 1/3 cup freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 Tablespoon dried thyme leaves
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 3/4 Tablespoons molasses
- 3/4 cup spring onions, minced, also known as Mexican onions
- 9 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- 4 medium Scotch bonnets or habanero chiles (depending on your heat tolerance), stemmed and minced
- 4 pounds chicken pieces
- In a medium bowl combine all ingredients except the chicken. Mix together well.
- Add the chicken to the marinade and toss with a rubber spatula to coat the chicken completely.
- Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. If time permits, it’s set to chill overnight. If not, chill for at least 6 hours.
- Heat grill to medium or a cast iron skillet on medium-high.
- Remove chicken from marinade. Place chicken on grates, skin side down.
- Cook uncovered, turning once, until the jerk marinade forms a nice crust on the skin, about 8 minutes.
- Cover the grill (or cast iron). Continue cooking until cooked through, about 40 minutes on grill. Time may vary if cooking in skillet.
- Bake until fully cooked through.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Line a cookie sheet or metal rimmed baking pan with foil.
- Transfer marinated chicken to the prepared pan.
- Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165℉.