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Jerk Chicken

Kwame Onwuachi

Lesson time 28 min

Jerk, a symphony of flavors, encapsulating the finesse, attention to detail, and all of the nuances of Jamaican cooking. Learn this iconic dish known for its intense depth of smokiness, heat, spice, and flavor. The 3-day cooking process is totally worth it.

Students give this lesson an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars
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I don’t think there’s anything more Jamaican than jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk vegetables, just jerking in general. The story of jerk is the enslaved escaped the British and climbed the mountains. And while they were up there, you know, they didn’t want to give away their location. So, they built these pits underground and packed it with the wood, the charcoal, so the smoke wouldn’t reveal where they are. And lo and behold, jerk chicken was born from that. You add some of the local spices that grew there, some wild thyme. At that time, it was Thai chilis, some allspice but they used to actually preserve the chicken even more. This is the chicken that we know and love today all across the world.Cheers, y’all.[Group] Cheers.Jerk chicken is synonymous with the word Jamaican, and we’re gonna show you how to do that here. So, I have a spatchcock chicken here. Now if you look at this, the backbone has pretty much been taken out of this chicken. This is gonna allow it to cook very evenly and it’s gonna get the marinade all the way inside. So, you can go to the butcher and just tell ’em to spatchcock it. That means they’ll take this backbone out. Pretty much, that holds this together. And that way you can lay flat. You can also do it yourself and just cut it with scissors right there. So, there are many ways to do all dishes in life, especially jerk chicken, brown stew chicken, oxtail. A lot of these dishes that I’m making, I like to brine my chicken. Now, this ensures that it is juicy all the way throughout, from the breasts to the thigh. So, I’m gonna get some vegetables to build this brine and get some garlic, some ginger, some limes. Get some thyme in here as well. Now, you know, when you’re cooking or or even preparing something this is where you want to start building your flavors. So, even in my brine, I’m introducing these jerk flavors into this bird. So, I’m gonna add some jerk paste as well. So, I have some green onions, some limes, some fresh thyme, some ginger, Scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, bay leafs, allspice and jerk paste. I’m just gonna chop these up, rough chop right into the pot. And take some lime, squeeze it. Add it right in there. Thyme, bay leafs. Brining is, you know, that’s just something that I do for the jerk chicken. It’s the way that I like to cook most of my chickens, especially if I’m cooking the white meat, ’cause it tends to get a little dry, but it adds a lot of flavor and it ensures that you have a juicy bird at the end of the day. Everybody wants that. I’m gonna just rinse this ginger off. Meat brining is prevalent in so many different cuisines. That helps preserve the meat, but it helps tenderize it, more importantly. It replaces some of the water content, you know, directly with salinity which makes it a juicier product. And you can brine so many things. You can brine vegetables. You can brine fish. You can brine, you know, pork and meat or beef. So, you know, use this recipe to brine, you know, whatever you want. The most essential things in a brine are salt and sugar. You know, even water is optional. You know, there’s a wet brines and there’s dry brines. They both achieve pretty much the same thing, but you know, it’s all on what you want to do. And I’m gonna add jerk paste. So, the only reason why you’re really heating up a brine is to dissolve the sugar and salt. You want it to dissipate throughout all the liquid, so then it can go into the bird efficiently. I don’t really want to bring this to a boil because I’m gonna add some ice to this to cool it down. That way I can add my bird directly to this, very fast. And this already smells amazing. Has all the flavors of jerk already in it. So, all of this is gonna be infused into the bird. So, now that all the salt and sugar dissolved, I’m gonna place this here. I’m gonna get this bird ready for a bath. So, I didn’t add all the cups of water to this. I replaced some of it with ice. That way I can cool this down instantly, so I don’t cook the chicken when I place it in the brine. And you want to get a nice very high temperature glass bowl to do this. This is a Pyrex bowl. That way it will not break when you’re adding this hot liquid to it. So, this is done. It’s cooled down. It’s not gonna affect the texture of the bird or anything at this point. I’m gonna place this chicken right in this bowl, and then pour this right over it. So, I’m gonna wrap this up and pop it in the fridge for about 24 hours. Make sure you wrap it up, kids. Very important. Yes, chef. It’s for everyone. We brine the chicken. Now, that does two things. First of all, we put so much flavor into it, so it makes it incredibly flavorful, but it also weakens the muscle fibers, which makes it feel more tender and it swells them up, which makes it more juicy. Now we’re gonna marinate it, and we want to marinate it afterwards, because if we did it first, then it would wash off all of that flavor. We want to keep that on when it hits the grill. So, I’m gonna grab this chicken. Sure you use both hands. It’s a little heavy. To the sink we go. I just put some gloves on. This makes clean up a lot more easier. So, I’m gonna dry this off a bit. Sat in the brine so it’s like super wet, and I want to get some of that moisture off so the marinade can really stick to the bird. Now if you see this bird, it’s a little more plump. You know, normally when you brine a chicken or any meat, it gains about 10% of its weight. So, the salt water infuses into it and plumps the bird up. Just soaks in all of that flavor and that saline solution. All right. Now it’s time to marinate it. It smells amazing already. And honestly, it smells like jerk chicken. You probably could get away with throwing this on the grill right now, but we’re taking it up a notch, all right. So, I’m gonna grab this jerk paste, and we’re gonna dress this bird. You don’t want that spoon to touch the bird, ’cause then you’re gonna get all the bacteria back into there. So, just find a spot to continue to put it on. So, I’m gonna put some right on top and I’m also gonna stuff some under the skin. It’s a lot of flavor in this paste, so you don’t need too much. But you want it pretty much everywhere on this bird. Actually, I’m gonna try to get some under here as well. I’m gonna flip this over and now marinate this side. Get some into those cavities. You can leave this up to 48 hours, really. The longer it sits, the better it is. I mean, you don’t want the chicken to go bad, so you don’t want to leave it for too long. But I like to leave this for at least 24 hours. You want to poke a hole, kind of like along the bone of the leg. And just adds some more for good measure. Give this a flip, one more time. All right, so I’m gonna wrap this up. Put this right in the fridge. So, I’m gonna let that marinate for about 24 hours, and tomorrow I’m gonna call Paz help me build a fire and do a proper outside jerk chicken.So, tonight we’re making jerk chicken. I’m waiting for Kwame to come out with that jerk that’s already marinated. I got a bonfire ready for us. We got this grill going. The cabbage, it’s cooked down with some white wine and some marination. When that’s done, we’re gonna mount it with some butter and some lime. So, it’s like kind of rich, nicely acidic. It’s gonna be a perfect, perfect pairing for this jerk chicken. All rightI met Paz 10 years ago. He’s my partner in everything that I do. You know, we’ve opened five restaurants together. He’s my brother.I met Kwame in culinary school on the very first day. He stood out. He had tattoos. He had style. And I’m like, I definitely want to be friends with this guy. I didn’t know anything about Caribbean food growing up. I grew up in northern New Jersey. I didn’t even learn about it in culinary school. It’s just something that people didn’t know about. So, Kwame really just wanted to take Jamaica and celebrate it. It’s something that has really driven him to elevate Afro Caribbean cuisine and make it known to everybody else, but also for his people to be proud of what he’s doing. So, Kwame has always taken the food that he’s had of his heritage and made it his own. He always wants to have that soul in the dish. But like a lot of the food that he cooks is his versions of Jamaican classics. So, I am julienning these carrots, and then I’m going to shred the cabbage. Once this is ready to go, I’m gonna put this on the fire and start cooking down my marination. You know, we want to cook out all of those raw flavors to soften them. And then we’re gonna put the the cabbage and the carrots in the pot. We’re gonna add some salt. That’s gonna help take out a lot of that water content that’s in these vegetables. So, this is definitely normally done with green cabbage. It’s what’s local to Jamaica. But ,you know, if you only have red cabbage, then by all means. Wooh. Coals are rocking. It’s gonna be nice and hot. So, now we’re gonna get our pans on. I’m gonna put some oil in both of these and get that warmed up. We’re gonna wait for these to heat up, and then I’m gonna add my marination, my jerk. And then for the barbecue, the onions. All right, so our oil’s hot. I’m gonna start adding my marination to both of these. Remember, there’s so much good flavor in here. All right, so this one’s gonna be for my cabbage. This one is going to be for my jerk barbecue which means I definitely need some jerk paste in here. So, I’m gonna wait for these to start simmering a bit so we can start cooking out that raw flavor. And I’m gonna add the onions. So, coming here to Jamaica and like finally having real jerk for the first time, you know, Kingston jerk, we got to see kind of like, everything behind the scenes. We went back into where they, like, are actually marinating the chicken into the pork, and we got to taste that marinade. And it was just, it was so bright, it was so complex. There were so many layers to it. I think the way we do it is classic. You know, we elevate it with Kwame’s cuisine, but the process is definitely traditional. So, we’re gonna continue building our jerk barbecue in this pot here. You know, the onions still need to sweat out a little bit. I’m gonna actually add some salt to it to help pull out all of that water. And then in this next one, where this marination is simmering nicely, it’s about time for our cabbage and carrots. All right. I’m gonna stir this cabbage around, get everything coated in this marination. So, now it’s time for me to put some salts in here. Then I’m gonna add my wine. I’m gonna stir it up. And really, I’m just gonna put it in the back corner of the grill so it can stew. Now it’s time for the veno. So, as this cooks down, all that salt is gonna pull that water out of there. And this will actually kind of fill up with water. As the carrots and the cabbage starts to break down, the wine will reduce adding just another depth of flavor. And then, like I said, butter and lime to make it fine and it’s gonna be perfect. So, I just added ketchup to our barbecue sauce. And now, I’m gonna add some brown sugar. Remember, we already have those onions that marination and that jerk in there. So, I just want to bring this. I’m gonna stir this all together. So, now we’re just gonna let this cook.What’s up. What’s up, man?Oh, what’s up, man?You got space for me on that grill?Oh, you know I do. Got the barbecue going.[Kwame] Have the carrots and cabbage.[Paz] Just put a lid on it. It looks like it’s doing its thing.Let me smell. Let me smell. Let me smell.Oh man. Get in there. Get in there. Get in there.Oh my God.That’s it. That’s it.That is it.And I’m ready for this.I mean, this has been this is day three of this process right now. So, you know how important jerk chicken is to me, and like, you know, capturing the essence of it. Yeah. Maybe adding a couple different things, but the flavor is still the same.Of course. Of course.So, I’m gonna throw this right on the grill. It’s hot?[Paz] Oh, it’s hot. It’s hot.[Kwame] All right[Paz] Man, I thought every day was day one. Oh, that sizzle.[Kwame] That’s it. I’m gonna put some pimento wood in there, right on the coals. And I’ve been soaking it with some thyme now, and that’s gonna release the smoke but it’s gonna do it slowly and gently.So, we got the jerk barbecue, we got the cabbage. Kwame and I are best friends. We have a lot of fun in the kitchen.Oh my God. Smells perfect.[Paz] I think we got it done. Yeah. He has pushed me well beyond things that I ever knew I was capable of. And, like, that definitely keeps me going.It looks right.[Paz] I think this is ready to come off.All right, let’s take it off. Let’s let this bird smoke for like 45 minutes and let’s have a beer. Let’s chill out.It’s time.You’ve been here for so long.It’s time.So, I’m gonna close this up and let that smoke just permeate that bird. This has been a trip, huh?This has been a trip.A hell of a trip.Cheers, man. Cheers to the trip.Cheers.Cheers. Cheers us.Us.Cheers to Jamaica.Yeah, we finally made it to this point where we’re an hour away from finally enjoying it. I’m so excited.Yeah, this is one of the recipes, you know, that is so important to me because it shows the history of Jamaica. It’s a dish that’s really birthed by freedom, you know, and it shows the tenacity of what people of color, West Africans, just people of color in general have to go through, and then to think of the nuances in this dish, you know, like, yes, like we may have taken it a step further and brined it, but it’s rooted in tradition. You know, the allspice, the scallions, the ginger, the garlic, the thyme, the Scotch bonnet chilis, you know, all the different sauces that are in there, all stuffed into this bird. It’s a beautiful work of art to see it all come together.It is. There’s so much flavor in this food. There’s so much love in this food.The key is the pimento wood, the slow roasting of this bird. And the juice is dripping off of it into that meat. And that’s what creates the superior product. And that’s the product that we love. I’m hungry. You ready to eat?Ah, so ready. All right. Let’s do it.Let’s do this. Got some nice smoke coming out.You ready for this?Yeah, gimme the show.You ain’t ready.Man, I stay ready. Come on.All right, all right, all right, all right. You can see the skin is getting tight. It’s getting glossy. It’s absorbing all that smoke. It’s plump, it’s juicy. Oh my God.[Paz] Finally.I’m gonna cut this up. Why don’t you get some of this in the bowls?I got that.Can you pass me a lime? I just want to season this cabbage up.Yes, please.[Kwame] A little bit of lime juice. It’s a very traditional side dish. Cabbage, carrots. Yeah. Get that nice jerk barbecue.Definitely.Classic.Oh man. I’m excited for this.Yes, yes, yes.Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful. I’m gonna just cut.That was like butter. You could have just pulled that off.Wow. I’m gonna keep it hole. I mean, normally we chop it up. I’m gonna cut this. Look at that. Look at that. I’m gonna take this cage off. And I’m just gonna slice it. Look how juicy this white meat is.I know. I can’t wait. It’s taking everything in me-To not take a bite. Let’s wait till we sit down, man. Let’s wait till we sit down. We just dust that dirt off and get to eatin’. Thanks, bro.Let’s do this, man.[Kwame] Oh man, we’re here.[Paz] Bro.[Kwame] Yo, look at this. You you can see the marina that’s underneath. I mean, look. Hold on. Inside. I stuffed it down to the bone. Cheers.Salud. Bro.Yo, this sweetness, like, from that smoke. Wow. And this chicken breast, look how juicy it is. You know, it’s retained all of that moisture.Yeah.Look at that. I mean, at the end of the day, it was all worth it.It always is.Yeah. Cheer, man.Cheer, bro.

About the Instructor

Kwame Onwuachi started peeling shrimp and stirring roux at 5 years old in his mother’s catering kitchen in the Bronx. The James Beard Award-winning chef has received many accolades since then, including FOOD & WINE’S Best New Chef, Esquire Magazine’s 2019 Chef of the Year, 30 Under 30 honoree by both Forbes and Zagat, and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef as both a contestant and judge. In his class, Onwuachi embraces the richness of Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine, and teaches students how to cook his favorite Jamaican recipes.