My sister Karen is visiting and I always try to make something new when one of my sisters visits. Today, I decided on Nevis jerked chicken and a sweet potato salad. Unfortunately, I can only guess at what is in the spice blend that I am using on the chicken.
Daughter Eilene has been working on an archeology dig on the Hamilton plantation in the Caribbean Island of Nevis. While there she developed a taste for their jerked chicken, which is very different from the other islands. To bring the flavor home she brought me a bag of their spice blend.
It is difficult to guess what is in this spice blend-as it is ground quite finely. In appearance it is a bright yellow powder, but when I put it on the damp chicken it turned a more reddish color. In taste it is not the fiery blend of spices one usually associates with Caribbean jerk spice. One spice I do not think it has is a lot of hot pepper powder, although there may be some sweet paprika in the mix. Sampling the raw spice, the dominate flavor is salt with a few flakes of what I believe is bay leaf. From the color, I think the main seasoning is turmeric, but the way it changes color in the presence of moisture makes me think that there is a fair amount of saffron in the blend.
Note: Nevis is the only source for this spice blend, but—with the popularity of the play Hamilton—the island has become a tourist destination. My daughter assures me that every market on the island carries this spice mix for local consumption. You or a friend must go to Nevis to do your shopping for the key ingredient. Right after I posted this my sister found a site claiming to be a Nevis jerked chicken recipe. Looking at the ingredients list I do not think it is the same thing my daughter brought back.
I was very cautious the first time I used this jerk spice—between the saltiness and being unsure of its heat profile—I did not want to burn my sister’s mouth. I used a tablespoon and a half for the whole chicken. I did not need to worry, this is a very mild jerk blend. If anything the chicken was a bit under salted. Eilene’s comment was that while good, it was “not red enough.” In the recipe below, I suggest using 3-4 tablespoons for a whole chicken.
Nevis Caribbean Jerk Chicken
1 whole chicken
3-4 Tbs. Nevis Jerk spice blend
1. Cut the chicken into four pieces.
Tip: Remove the backbone and wing tips. Separate the breast and legs. Starting from the inside of the bird, divide the breasts in half cutting through the keel bone and cartilage along the center line. Pull the skin away from the meat, but leave it attached, if you can.
Note: Frequently for a dish like this, I also remove the keel bone, ribs and any other bones that might pierce the marinade bag, but this time I left them in—to protect the meat on the grill. I did remove the ribs, because there is very little meat on them and the sharp edges tend to pierce the marinating bag.
2. Liberally sprinkle the jerk spices all over the meat and skin.
Tip: Lightly prick the skin over the fatty deposits on the thighs and at the thick end of the breasts.
Note: This allows the render fat a way to escape and will give you a crisper skin.
3. Put the chicken pieces in a seal-able, gallon plastic bag.
4. Press the air out of the bag and seal it tightly and marinate for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator.
5. Set the chicken on the counter an hour before you plan to start cooking.
Tip: A room temperature bird cooks more evenly.
Note: Set the chicken on a lipped baking tray and pull the skin over to cover the meat. It may be necessary—especially on the breasts—to pin the skin down with toothpicks broken in half.
6. Build a bi-level fire in your barbecue.
Tip: For gas grills: Turn on all of the burners five minutes on their highest setting before cooking and then turn off one side.
7. Lay the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill.
Tip: Placement of your chicken pieces is important. The legs take longer to cook than the breasts and the thickest part of the breast takes longer than the thin trailing end. Even the cool side of the grill is hotter neat the hot side. Place the legs with the thighs closest to the heat with the leg portion points away. Place the breasts with the thick part toward the heat and the thin part as far as possible from the heat.
8. Insert a constant read thermometer into the breast—near the wing joint—and close the grill.
9. Set the thermometer alarm to 133º F.
Tip: As the fat and juices render from the chicken it will smoke as it hits the flame guards, but they will not ignite and flare up.
10. Move the chicken to the hot side of the grill—skin side down—and close the grill.
Tip: This should give you some good grill marks.
Note: Much of the fat will be rendered at this point, but there should still be enough to get some good smoky flavor without too many flare ups scorching the meat.
11. Reset the thermometer alarm to 155º F
12. After 5 minutes, check to see if the skin is golden brown.
Tip: If the skin is not done to your liking, give it another two minutes and check again.
13. Flip the chicken pieces—skin side up—and close the grill.
14. After 5 minutes, check to see if the bottom of the chicken pieces are burning.
Tip: If not, check them every two minutes until the alarm goes off.
Note: If the bottoms of the chicken is starting to singe, more the pieces to the cool side of the grill until they have reached 155º F.
15. When the alarm sounds, transfer the chicken to a plate and lightly tent with aluminum foil.
Tip: You want to keep the chicken covered, so that it will finish cooking, but you do not want to seal in the steam, which would make your skin soggy.
16. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes.
17. Cut the chicken pieces into portions and transfer them to a serving plate.
Note: I was using a very large chicken and I separated the leg from thigh and cut the thigh in half along the bone. I crosscut the breast into five pieces.