Food From The Rye: Jerk Chicken


Jerk Chicken

You could say I’m fond of jerk, but you’d be making one hell of an understatement. The Jerk Cookout Festival has been my event of the year for the past three and I’ve struggled the rest of the time to make a solid version at home. Smokey Jerkey in New Cross (one of the best) and various places in Brixton and Peckham fill other gaps.

Caribbean ingredients are piled high on every reasonable bit of pavement here and you could buy the ingredients for a jerk marinade in almost every food store on Peckham Rye; which one you choose depends on personal preference. I’ve been here about a year and half now and I’ve fallen completely in love with the ramshackle collation that is Khan’s Bargain Limited and the lively stalls on Choumert Road.

I never stop being amused by the interest from Jamaican people who seldom fail to spot the ingredient combination in my hands and stop me mid-browse to ask what I’m cooking. For some reason ‘soup’ is always their first guess. You say you’re making jerk and eyes flicker with excitement. They love the fact you’re loving jerk but at the same time you can forget the idea of ever getting a hint at their recipe. Great jerk recipes are guarded like treasure. They are highly personal. You know the exciting ones are always the product of many tweaks over many years, passed between relatives and best friends who keep it locked against their chests like a family jewel.

A few months ago now my friend introduced me to Josh’s recipe and I was intrigued by the fairly large amount of sugar it. It made me think about what my jerk had been lacking – stickiness.

It was one of those situations where you kick yourself for not realising what the obvious and crucial omission has always been. What I had before was always hanging on the side of being a raw flavour base; kind of like eating a curry paste on its own with no sauce. The use of dark sugar melts the lot down to a fruity, perfumed glaze that chars at the edges into delicious smoky nuggets.

I used three de-seeded scotch bonnets and the heat was pretty spot on; the warm and tingling hum allows for a dollop of hot pepper sauce if it tickles your fancy. I served it with a white cabbage slaw with nigella seeds, not because it was the best match but because I had a lot leftover from the day before. It is one of my favourite accompaniments to grilled tandoori chicken.

The jerk was my most successful attempt to date; thank you Josh for the inspiration. Nothing more satisfying than moving along a long term recipe commitment. There is always one major problem with cooking jerk at home though and that is the fact that most of us will never own a proper steel drum ‘jerk pan’, although believe me when I say that once I have my own garden, I will build one. Until that day, a BBQ is the best bet.

Jerk Chicken

[EDIT DECEMBER 2011: I now have a new and even further improved jerk recipe, which I shall reveal soon. Hopefully in a very exciting way!]

1.5 tablespoons allspice
50g dark packed brown sugar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 bunch large spring onions (about 5)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 scotch bonnet chillies, deseeded
Juice of 2 large limes
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

Chicken pieces (I used 2 legs and 2 breasts)

Blend all the marinade ingredients together and smother over the chicken rubbing well in. I use gloves for this, as I do when I chop the scotch bonnets. Refrigerate overnight.

Allow to come to room temperature and brush off most of the excess marinade before grilling on the BBQ. To set up your BBQ for the indirect method, light the coals in the middle in a kind of volcano shape then wait for the flames to disappear, leaving you with coals which have a light grey ash coating. Move them to the sides. This gets the indirect heat circulating around the kettle when you put the lid on. I find it helps to also brush the grill with a little oil. The chicken pieces will probably take about 30 minutes (although it depends on size) – always check the juices run clear.

To cook in the oven, place in a baking tray and cook at 190C for 30-40 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear.

White Cabbage Slaw with Nigella Seeds

This is a perfect match for Tandoori chicken, not so much jerk.

1 medium sized white cabbage, shredded
1 yellow pepper, grated
60ml red wine vinegar
55g sugar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon nigella (onion) seeds

Mix it all together and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Serve.

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  • Avatar
    Reply rosie lovell March 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    yum! that looks perfect helen. xx

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    Reply David Hall March 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Hey Helen, amazing jerk chicken! Mouth is watering.

    How’s life? Teaching has taken over my life so I don’t Blog as much as I would like to. What are you up to these days?

    Dave x

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    Reply Chris March 21, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Fucking. Brilliant. I bet you’d win any jerkoff (fnar fnar)

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    Reply Lizzie March 22, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I am pleased to hear the extra sugar worked! It looks lovely. I have a feeling slaws are going to feature heavily on my table this summer.

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    Reply Joshua March 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Glad it went well, it looks like it turned out great.

    With mentions on both yours and Lizzie’s blogs this weekend no wonder my hits are through the roof.

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    Reply KSalty March 22, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Great recipe – I am looking at that chicken, and looking down at much lunch and feeling ever so slightly disappointed. Will save this one for the summer. K

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    Reply Jennifer Joyce March 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Oh my god I want to eat that right now.

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    Reply shayma March 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    love jerk chicken and love your spice rub/marinade. x shayma

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    Reply Astrid March 23, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Eee, jerk! I’d never had jerk before I moved to Brixton. Marevlooosh,

    Oh, as for the Cookout – there’s talk in marketing that we won’t be able to host it at the Horniman this year 🙁 It’s simply become too big for us!

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    Reply Margaret March 23, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Wow! This blog entry is absolutely flowing with enthusiasm, Great stuff!

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    Reply Sarah, Maison Cupcake March 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Looks great, I need to try some authentic jerk stuff as apart from a whacky wedding once I’ve never had it.

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    Reply Kristen March 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    First off, LOVE jerk chicken. I was in Jamaica a few years ago and got to taste it from it’s home of origin…absolutely delicious! I must give this recipe a try!

    Secondly, I wanted to let all my fellow foodies know about a promotion I recently heard about. I work for a company that does restaurant reviews and throught the grapevine heard about a promotion that is to appear in the Metro THIS Wed. March 24th. The Metro is running a special Celebrate the City promotion that is wine and food lead! Dine at one of the participating restaurants and recieve a free glass of wine, champagne, or a cocktail! There are many local restaurants included and can be found all over the city. I hope all of my fellow foodies out there can find the time to take advantage of this promotion! Let us know what your experience is like if you go! 🙂

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    Reply Helen March 23, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Rosie – Thanks! And it was lovely to bump into you on Choumert Road. Who’d have thought we’d meet there by coincidence? xx

    Hey Dave! Nice to hear from you. Yeah all good here thanks. I’m really happy for you that the teaching is going well but I have to say, I do miss the blog! x

    Chris – I’ll have you know I make it the highlight of my year to experience the biggest jerk off possible.

    Lizzie- It did. I’ve been thinking about it ever since we talked about the recipe. Oh how I can’t wait for summer.

    Joshua- Thank you again for the inspiration. I knew it was missing something and I just couldn’t dredge it up.

    KSalty – You can’t be that BBQ smoke baby! I’m planning on setting a new personal record with the amount of new stuff I can BBQ this year.

    Jennifer – Thanks!

    Shayma – Thanks Shayma.

    Astrid – That is sad news indeed but I did suspect that last year. The amount of people- astonishing and so many more stalls than the year before. The queues were a huge downside too. Shame really. I wonder what can be done?

    Margaret – Thank you! Hope you are well x

    Sarah – Jerk at a wedding? Awesome.

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    Reply LexEat March 24, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I always want to lick the screen of my laptop when I read your posts!

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    Reply gastrogeek March 25, 2010 at 10:48 am

    ooh I want some jerk chicken right now, you’ve got me all adribble! Beautifully written, and nice slaw recipe and all. Another must try.

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    Reply Tv Food and Drink March 25, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I love this! Thank you for the post. I’m such a fan of jerk sauce but I’ve never made it from scratch! And I’ve never used scotch bonnets either, so I’m doubly excited to get this on!

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    Reply Daniel March 26, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Yum I like a nice jerk chicken.. I wonder what would happen if you didn’t scrap off the marinate.. 🙂 Looks great keep up the good work!

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    Reply dental hygienist June 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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    Reply Jonathan June 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    If in doubt add sugar. Awesome stuff. If only there was a larger Caribbean population in Gothenburg. It’s a jerk wilderness over here. Maybe I could jerk a herring?

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    Reply Owen July 2, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Ari Up with that Jerk!

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    Reply William July 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Just looking for a recipe to use for chicken wings on the barbie and this looks perfect.

    Ta x

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    Reply Alex July 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Just made this it was really good

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    Reply coldclimate July 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Followed and adapted this a little, and blogged about the results – just brilliant.

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    Reply The Style PA at Home July 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    This looks delicious, and my dinner won’t be ready for ages!

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    Reply George@CulinaryTravels August 16, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Made this tonight. It’s bloody stunning – the best jerk chicken recipe I’ve ever followed. It’ll become a regular feature here. Thanks Helen!

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    Reply Helen March 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks everyone, it’s so nice to hear you all enjoyed it. Hx

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    Reply Ruth March 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Hi there Helen

    Your recipe looks great! Before I try it, I wanted to check if it’s 1.5 tblsp crushed allspice berries or 1.5 tblsp of ground allspice?

    Many thanks!

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    Reply Helen March 31, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Hi Ruth, it’s 1.5 tablespoons crushed. Let me know what you think of the recipe

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    Reply polly June 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm


    made this tonight (although sloshed a bit of rum in a la jamie) and it was absolutely sublime. served it with pitta and stir fried greens (fusion) with the sterilised marinade sloshed over. glassy eyes, slack jaws, we are now all cracked out on JERK.

    followed with some flat peaches left to soak in white wine and vanilla. perfect to put out the flames in my mouth.

    thanks for the inspiration. promised myself i am going to the jerk cook out this summer!

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    Reply Frncesca September 1, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for the tip on the sugar. I am gong to give my Jerk another go now! Can I ask about Khan’s Bargain Limited.
    It looks absolutely fantastic. I would like to put it in my food shop directory that I am trying to put together. Is it Indian, West Indian or Caribbean? And have you got other shops that you perticually recommend in Peckham?

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    Reply Helen September 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

    If you look under the Peckham tab at the top of the page you will find an entire post about food shops in Peckham.

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    Reply Mike September 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

    A-MAZE-ING! I used Molasses sugar as I had loads from endlessly making sticky toffee pudding!

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    Reply Helen September 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

    So glad you enjoyed it Mike! Nice work on the molasses sugar, too.

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    Reply Island Store December 10, 2011 at 5:16 am

    You are bang on with the secret recipe concept for jerk. We are island based and have still been well over a year in our jerk product development and it’s not launched yet. Jerk is magical, but it has to be right!

    Full respect to the lady from Peckham as we would say around these parts… and if you really want one, we’ll find and post you a jerk pan x

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      Reply Helen December 10, 2011 at 9:10 am

      POST me a jerk pan?! How is that possible?! (but thanks yes please)

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    Reply Andrew Copley December 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I made this on Sunday, I think I messed up by using five large spring onions instead of five normal standard supermarket size ones. The sauce was too liquidy (is there such a word) . I think the excess amount of liquid watered down the spices and the chilli as the dominating flavour was sugar

    Next time I shall use less sugar and use smaller spring onions.

    I’m a Jerk addict (especially love J-Pork) but can never make it like my friends Mum, whom is reponsible for my addiction.

    The quest goes on!! Fantastic blog by the way, really enjoy it!

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      Reply Helen December 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Ah yes, definitely sounds like the spring onions contributed to the watery-ness. Hope it’s better next time!

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    Reply Andrew Copley December 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I’ll let you know, I’m sure it will be!!!!

    When will you be unveling the ‘new and improved recipe’ ????


    • Avatar
      Reply Helen December 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm

      After Christmas! I like to make you wait…he he

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    Reply Andrew Copley December 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Have just made it again, this time using non industrial size spring onions; it was superb.

    I am currently basking in the adulation of my family members, all of whom loved it too. Pork next; what cut would you suggest??

    Thanks, this will now be a regular dinner in the Copley household.

    I’m making your Chilli tomorrow to eat hungover on new years day!

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      Reply Helen December 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Brilliant. I’m so pleased it was the spring onions causing the trouble! Re: pork, I think ribs are the way to go. Or pork belly. Or, you could do a shoulder or something like that but make sure in that case you do slashes in the meat and push the marinade right in there, otherwise you won’t get the surface area to get a good jerk flavour. Let me know how you get on…

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