Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings
The term jerk spice (also commonly known as Jamaican jerk spice) refers to a spice rub. The word jerk refers to the spice rub, wet marinade, and to the particular cooking technique.
Street-side jerk stands or jerk centers are frequently found in Jamaica and the nearby Cayman Islands, as well as throughout the Caribbean and beyond.
I had my first real jerk chicken while visiting my family in the Cayman Islands. It was Christmas. I was living in New York and the city was in deep pain and still recovering from the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I was living in Brooklyn with a roommate that I can only describe as a nightmare. Think the movie “Single White Female”…but black….enough said. We lived in Bedford Stuyvesant before it was cool. Before the hipster explosion. When it was rent controlled and full of colorful people. When New York was Old New York. The good ole days... Basically stepping over crack pipes and needles to get to the train. It was cold. I was broke, without a job, without a man, and down right depressed.
I had just been replaced in a play that was on it’s way to the Manhattan Theater Club (Kind of a big deal) with amazing reviews from the New York Times, my agent dropped me and told me to come pick up my headshots, and my waitressing gig “du jour” took me off of the schedule as I was showing up too late for my shifts. Again. A result of the actor audition life and rehearsal schedule, I presume.
So there I was walking home in the rain in Brooklyn. Keys in one hand and pepper spray in the other. I walked as quickly as I could in the cold rain, I thought about my life and how the heck did I get here? I’m just a nice dancer from Canada! All I could think about was getting home to my bed and curling up to another episode of 'Sex and the City'. My happy place. I’m a true fan by the way. Like, I can quote lines. Like, I would go to a Sex and the city convention and stand in lines and get things signed. Like I know the meaning behind why each character is wearing a specific outfit. Like that…
Anyway, I walk in to find my apartment FLOODED! Everything I owned including the crappy futon mattress on the floor was floating in a river of rain water! Basement apartment living at it’s finest! Needless to say, there was a breakdown of sorts. I think that was the very first time, other than when I was a child, that I actually asked God for some answers. Real answers. God was obviously trying to tell me something. I salvaged what I could and grabbed the important stuff. Passport. Pictures. Within a week I found myself on a plane to the Cayman Islands. Some much needed time of reflection and a hug from my parents.
My brother and his girlfriend also decided to come which made this time so very special. The first time we were all together on vacation in a long, long time. My brother, his girlfriend and I had so much fun! We did everything including partied our butts off! We were young. The night that I had the best jerk chicken wings in the world happened after a late night of drinking and dancing. We were in the taxi on the way back home and in through the windows wafted a smoky, spicy, fragrance. It wasn't quite BBQ but it smelled SO good!! We asked the driver where that was coming from and he told us it’s from the street-side jerk stands. Huge oil barrels cooking the most amazing chicken you will ever eat in your life! We demanded to stop the car immediately! I could barely see as the street was almost pitch black. We stumbled in our drunken state following the smoke that led us to heaven. We just sat there on the side of the road licking our fingers and smiling about our delicious discovery. Pre-children. Pre-responsibilities . Pre-everything. At that moment I didn’t care that I didn't have a job, an agent, or even a place to come home to. I just cared about the best damn chicken in the world and I figured that I would start a new chapter when I got back to New York. I would do something different. Something outside of my comfort zone. I would start fresh.
No less than a week after I returned to New York, I was dating a man twice my age and having a grand ole time. A short time later...I was pregnant with little man numero uno. Something different eh? I’ll say…
So here it is. I've tried a couple of different recipes and tweaked it to my preferences. It's such a great marinade that I wouldn't just use it on chicken. Try it on shrimp or salmon for a little kick. How about on a nice thick portobello mushroom for my vegan fam! Double or triple the recipe and store in your fridge for about a week.
- 2 lbs Chicken Wings
- Juice of 2 limes
- 3 Scallions
- 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
- 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 2 Scotch Bonnet or Habeneros Peppers
- 1/4 of medium onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 thick slices of ginger
- 1 teaspoon Allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 10-15 Springs of fresh thyme
A word about peppers....just be super careful! Wear gloves if you can. Remember the heat lies in the seeds so feel free to cut them out if you would like as I have shown below. I chose habanero's for this batch because my grocery store didn't carry scotch bonnet. You can use any pepper you like but try to get fresh and good quality peppers. There really is no substitute. Use Jalapeño if you must. Just make sure it's fresh and wash your hands with soap and water immediately after you cut it.
1. Roughly chop the onions, scallions, and pepper. Add all ingredients to food processor.
2. Pulse to a light chunky sauce.
3. Cut and then"wash" your wings in a bowl of cold water using a lime or 1/4 cup white vinegar.
"Washing" your chicken might be new to you, but it's a way to clean it and get all that grime off. It's a West Indian thing...No self respecting West Indian will serve unwashed chicken! Rinse well and pat dry with a paper towel.
4. Pour the marinade over the chicken .
I used a ziplock bag. It's easy clean up and I don't risk touching the jerk seasoning to my hands as I distribute the marinade.
5. Refrigerate and Marinate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best.
6. Grill or Oven Bake. Your Choice.
I chose to oven bake instead of grill. You won't get that smokey flavor in the oven but it's still very tasty! Heat oven to a 450 F and bake on foil lined pan for 10 mins. Lower heat to 375 F and continue baking another 20-25 mins or until fully cooked and slightly charred.