Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Something I have noticed about other expats, as well as myself, if that when we move overseas, we tend to identify ourselves more strongly to the culture or region we are from.  I am from two places in the US:  southern Colorado and the Pacific Northwest.  There are times when I flaunt my cowboy boots, drape myself with turquoise jewelry, and cook up a big vat of pinto beans with tamales on the side.  Other times, I am a Northwest coastal hunter/gatherer, living the San Juan Islands life of subsistence, consisting of dungeness crab, grass-fed lamb, and locally cultivated vegetables and berries.  I love putting on those identities.  They tie me to my childhood, my family, and my memories.

My friend Geoffrey and I were umming together over plates of Tanzanian chicken and rice at the recent International Day celebration at our school in Tunis.  He is Canadian-Jamaican and started telling me about the specialties his mom had taught him to cook.  They sounded mouth-watering so we made a cooking date so he could teach me to make his (mama’s) jerk chicken.

He is such a teacher.  When I arrived, at 3:00 PM, he had a finished dish braising in the oven and everything set up to take me through the entire process.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Serves 8


  • 5 yellow potatoes, peeled, cut into ½” slices
  • 13 chicken pieces, boneless, skinless, legs and thighs, preferably cut into 3 sections each (This may require one to buy a new, expensive, Japanese cleaver)
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 ½ heads garlic, chopped
  • Garlic powder
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 small hot peppers, cut in ½
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper, ground
  • 2 tablespoons Jamaican spice blend (www.iriespices.com)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon  black pepper corns
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoning salt or salt


 Preheat oven to 350 degree F.

 Brown the potatoes on both sides, leaving them to drain on paper towels while preparing the chicken.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with approximately ½ cup of white vinegar and toss chicken to coat.  Rinse chicken with water and return to clean mixing bowl.  Cover chicken with the juice of 1 lemon, again tossing to coat.  Rinse the chicken with water and allow to  drip-dry in a strainer.

Return chicken to a clean mixing bowl.   To the bowl of chicken add the garlic, garlic powder, onion, tomatoes, and peppers.  Toss to distribute.  Add all spices and seasonings and toss with hands to coat.


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove chicken pieces a few at a time and brown on both sides.  Layer chicken pieces into a 9” x 12” baking dish, topped with browned bits from the skillet.  Cover chicken with the entire marinade.  Rinse the marinade bowl with ½ cup hot water, swirl, and pour over contents of baking dish.

Cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, shaking a little to settle the ingredients.

Place dish into oven, immediately reducing heat to 300 degrees F.  Cook for at least 1 hour or until chicken is completely tender.

Serve over a loose-grained rice, like basmati.


Mrs. Smith, you’ve got a good boy.

Winter Preserves Pork Ribs

There is a reason why humans invented the preservation methods of drying, candying, smoking, freezing, and keeping foods in airtight jars.  Of course, we all know it was to extend the life of foods a little beyond the growing season and to prevent starvation during the dormant months. The other motivation was to keep foods so they could be transported from an entirely foreign climate which would allow people to enjoy pineapples, and cloves, and even herring when they had no way of harvesting those foods themselves.

            When I travel, I am always picking up interesting dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, potted meats, and fruit preserves.  It is a luxurious feeling to know I have exotic hard spices or a glistening jar of preserves in the pantry, but sometimes, those “special” items get passed over when I am cooking because they require a little bit of imagination or preparation such as toasting and grinding.  Also, it is true that people just don’t eat so many jams and jellies as they used to even though we still love the idea of them.  Rather than waiting for the odd piece of receptive toast, this type of recipe is a great way to use those gems.
            My intent today was to use a good quantity of my pantry items with pork ribs as the vehicle. The recipe is then easily adaptable to your own pantry.  If you think of your basic barbecue sauce you usually take a base like tomatoes, contrast it with mustard and vinegar, and then add a few spices for flavor.  With that formula in mind, I made ribs that were akin to the sticky Chinese style, without replicating that icon.
Spice Mix
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced or 1 tbsp. dried
Artisinal salt to taste
Grind the following in a spice grinder:
½  tsp. each of cardamom, cloves, dried peppers, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, yellow mustard seeds,  black mustard seeds, and star anise (I also added a Tunisian specialty of dried bitter orange blossoms.  If you want the extra orange essence, you can add some orange zest.)
Mix all spice ingredients together.
½ cup black sesame paste
½ cup orange or lemon marmelade
1/3 cup tomato vinegar or ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
Stir spice mix into marinade ingredients.
Dice 1 large onion.  In a deep baking dish, layer chopped onions and rib sections that have been covered on both sides with the marinade mixture.  Intersperse so the onions touch all sides of the pork.  Pour 1 cup water around the side of the meat.  Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for two to three hours or until the meat is completely tender.  Uncover for the last 30 minutes to reduce the liquid and caramelize the meat.  If the cooking liquid is still watery, remove the meat and reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stovetop until it thickens.
In a small foil pan or open topped foil packet (approx.. 6” square), combine ½ cup black or green tea, ½ cup dry rice, and ¼ cup brown sugar.  Place in the bottom of a barbecue with a lid.  Heat barbecue to medium heat.  When tea mixture begins to smoke, add ribs for approximately 15 minutes or until they have taken on a subtle smoky flavor.  Remove ribs to a platter.    When cool, discard tea packet.
 Spicy, bright, sweet, smoky.  Very nice for a winter Sunday supper.  What’s in your pantry?