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Stir It Up….

April 20, 2011

Jamaica Cove Grilled Jerk Chicken

Famished from a long travel day and grueling media schedule, I wanted to grab something to eat before returning to my hotel. Tired of the same ole’ same ole’, I drove along praying something would grab my attention and satiate the hunger pangs rumbling in my belly. And then, out of nowhere, Jamaica Cove appeared. I turned into this modest roadside jerk shop and immediately knew I had made the right pit stop.

As much as my head was telling me I didn’t need to be eating a heavy Jamaican dinner, my stomach took over. As I walked in the front door, I nearly fell to my knees in olfactory overload from the aromas calling seductively from the kitchen. An intoxicating combination of onions, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chilies lured me in as stewed meats settled in large cast iron pans over a piping hot stove.

As head chef, Sherry, a Jamaican native, has been cooking Caribbean food for over 50 years. After a few minutes of chatting, I learned Sherry’s mum passed away when she was a young girl, and it forced her to take the helm and learn how to cook for her siblings.  When I asked her what makes her food taste so good, she gave the perfect answer.

“I have preached for years about love. I start all my recipes with equal amounts of love”.

With a dash of Jamaican humor, she presented her dishes with flair and imagination. Each item that came out of the kitchen was delicately spiced and flavored with jerk sauce! My heart started pounding as I tried to resist ordering one of every item from the menu. Oxtail, jerk chicken, curry chicken, beef patties, and plantains all looked equally delicious. The Braised oxtail was tender, flavorful, and had a sweetness I most closely associate with Chinese takeout. The rice & beans were light and tender and the cabbage and plantains were both cooked perfectly. The smoky jerk chicken and crispy skin were in complete contrast to each moist morsel. One might call it “allspice baked chicken” instead of jerk, but I recommend it all the same.

Unlike many chefs, Sherry was more than willing to share some family secrets.

“Any tips?” I asked.

“When it comes to oxtail stew, most people don’t trim the fat. It’s important to dredge the oxtail in flour before browning. Stew slowly. Put on some music and make ya home smell good.”

“Sprinkle a little extra allspice on your Jerk chicken before grilling it”

With these culinary gems, I downloaded two Bob Marley cds (I know…cliché) and headed to the kitchen to master jerk chicken. The following recipe is a true winner. My 70-year old father found it a tad bit spicy for his taste buds, but I hope you’ll try it for yourselves.

Every city has its diamond in the rough, and I want to try every single one of them. If you find yourself in Atlanta and you want to “Stir it Up”, why not pop along to Jamaica Cove?

Jamaica Cove
610 S Central Ave
Hapeville, GA 30354

I promise you won’t be disappointed. My dinner with a ginger beer only cost $9.00. As a side note, real jerk chicken washes down particularly well with an icy cold Red Stripe.

Jon’s Jerk Chicken
To me Jerk is Jamaica to the bone. My goal in creating this recipe is for you taste the fresh thyme and bold allspice with every bite.

For Jerk marinade:
3 scallions, chopped
5 plump garlic cloves, chopped
3 shallot onions, peeled
2 – 4 fresh Scotch bonnet or habanero chilies, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
4 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons black pepper
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 pounds chicken thighs or chicken breasts.

Make marinade:
At least 1 day before cooking, pat chicken dry with paper towels. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and grind to a coarse paste. Slather all over chicken, including under skin. Refrigerate 2 sealable plastic bags 12 to 36 hours, turning once or twice a day. Bring to room temperature before cooking and lightly sprinkle with more salt and ground allspice

To cook chicken:
Open vents on bottom of grill and on lid. Light a large chimney of charcoal briquettes and pour them evenly over one side of bottom rack (depending on how much you are cooking, you may add a double layer of charcoal).

When charcoal turns grayish white and you can hold your hand five inches above rack for 3 to 4 seconds, sear chicken in batches on lightly oiled rack over coals until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes per batch. Move chicken as seared to side of grill with no coals underneath, then cook, covered with lid, until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes more.

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