07 July 2008

Jerk Chicken for the Fourth

Last week I read an article in the New York Times about traditional Jamaican jerk chicken. Faced with an Independence Day full of yard work and house cleaning, I figured the attached recipe would be fun.

I started the afternoon of the third by making the jerk marinade. Lots of ingredients, and I saved the habanero peppers for the end. As you can tell from the Scoville chart, habaneros are high up on the list, closer to pepper spray than jalapeños. I don't normally wear gloves when working with peppers, but this time I did. I followed the common wisdom such as "don't touch your eyes", as well as the lesser-known but far more important advice to "be careful going to the bathroom". I slathered the marinade over four chicken leg quarters, all sides and under the skin. The quarters were then placed (under tight plastic) to rest for 24 hours.

I used natural charcoal, alder chips and whole allspice on the fire. This recipe is all about flavor, so the smoke needed a lot of seasoning. The leg quarters were smoked for half an hour with the lid on, then I pumped up the flames and finished them off with about another half hour of turning and adjusting. (The photo was taken in the dark after the smoking stage.)

Sweet Lion of Zion! The final product was probably the closet I've ever come to making Indian food. It tasted like good jerk should, but with the intensity of flavors and the way the spice had penetrated to the bone, it reminded me of great tandoori chicken. While the heat from the habaneros was present, it wasn't painful and kept the dish tingling, like the piccolo part in the 1812 Overture. I served it with some black beans and a little mesclun salad.

While a Red Stripe would have been appropriate, I decided to go with a domestic wine for dinner. The 2006 Vino Con Brio Passione Rosé is from Lodi, California. $11, 12.8% abv. 89% Sangiovese, 11% Petite Sirah. Crisp and tart with luscious ripe peach and strawberry flavors. While I had it chilled with dinner, it holds up remarkably well at room temperature where it can be savored a little more slowly.

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