Tender, succulent bites pack a one-two flavor punch of spicy-sweet and an aroma redolent of the Caribbean – this dish is a keeper. Serve with grilled pineapple and black bean-studded cilantro rice.
For the Labor Day holiday meal this year, the Grill-Meister requested “that jerk chicken thing you used to make – it’s been too long”. Good call! I have a favorite jerk chicken recipe that I’ve modified over a dozen years, scribbled on papers dotted with ingredient stains. It’s time to get it into the Glover Gardens cookbook for posterity and family “remakability”.
The recipe was from Bon Appétit in May of 2006, a Special Collector’s Edition called 321 Reasons to Love the Caribbean. I knew when I opened the fat, shiny issue just out of the mailbox and read the Jamaican Jerk Chicken recipe that it would be a taste-bud pleaser. I had a new boyfriend to try it out on, he who would eventually propose marriage and become the Grill-Meister in these pages. It’s just possible that this recipe figured into the proposal…
The original recipe is really good, but per usual, we’ve made it our own, tweaking ingredients here and there, switching from chicken to game hens, using the rotisserie rather than direct grilling. The jerk flavors are very versatile and the sauce and marinade work well not only with various poultry selections but with other cuts of meat on the grill: think jerk pork tenderloin or chops, jerk sirloin shish-kabob, jerk turkey burgers, slow-cooked jerk ribs. Eggplant, tofu, zucchini steaks or portobello mushrooms would hold up well for a vegetarian version. And don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you; the marinade comes together quickly, and the payoff is big.
Spicy Jerk Game Hens
- 4 Cornish game hens, rinsed, patted dry
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (juice from about 4 limes)
- 1/4 cup rum
- 1/8 cup water
- 3/4 cup malt vinegar
- 10-12 green onions, chopped in 1-inch lengths (white and green parts)
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
- 3 tablespoons dried thyme
- 2 Scotch bonnet chiles or habanero chiles with seeds, chopped, or your choice of chiles based on your heat tolerance
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup reserved marinade
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 cup honey
Arrange game hens in a large baking dish. Pour lime juice over and inside of each hen, turning to coat.
Make the marinade. Boil the rum and water in a small saucepan for 3 minutes and set aside to cool. Put the vinegar, rum mixture and the rest of the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree. The mixture will be slightly grainy. Transfer 1/2 cup of the jerk marinade mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
Spoon jerk marinade over the game hens, making sure to get some in the cavities. Cover and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. Turn occasionally to ensure even distribution of the spicy goodness.
Make the sauce by combining all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, bringing to a boil over high heat and the reducing the heat slightly. Simmer for 3-5 minutes until slightly thickened. Let cool, cover and refrigerate until it’s time to grill.
Remove the hens and sauce from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Preheat the grill and rotisserie burner to medium-high and add the hens to the rotisserie. Put an old cookie sheet on the grill to catch drips and prevent flare-ups. Use a meat thermometer to get the hens done to your preferred temperature, checking after about 30 minutes. Brush a little sauce on the hens for the last 5 minutes of rotisserie grilling to get a nice char.
Remove the hens from the grill rotisserie and tent with foil to keep warm while you assemble the plates.
Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.
And get ready for the compliments.
Other cooking methods: The hens can be cooked directly on the grill, turning occasionally to ensure that they cook evenly. Or bake in the oven at 350° for about 40 minutes (or until done to your liking), basting in the last 5 minutes and potentially broiling a moment or two at end for crispy skin.
Other poultry: the original recipe calls for 2 3-pound chickens, but when using chicken, we prefer legs (with the thigh and drumstick), or just thighs. Substitute five pounds of chicken for the four game hens, and cook on the grill or in the oven.
“Doneness”: the recommended inner temperature for poultry is 165°, but the temperature will continue to rise after meat is removed from the heat source. The Grill-Meister takes poultry off the grill before it gets to 165° and always lets the meat rest in a foil tent for about five to ten minutes.
About the chiles: use your judgment. Going with the recommended two habaneros or scotch bonnets packs a good wallop. We like it spicy here at Glover Gardens, so I usually throw a few different chiles in. For the most recent, perfectly hot but not quite incendiary version of this dish, I used one habanero, one serrano, one hot long red chile, and eight tiny but very hot chile pequins. If you don’t like spice much at all, just use a couple of jalapeños and call it done.
Here’s a link to the original recipe from Bon Appétit (now in Epicurious): Jamaican Jerk Chicken. If you visit, you’ll see rave reviews, but also quite a few comments about how the recipe was confusing: many folks accidentally combined the sauce ingredients with the marinade. Hopefully, the Glover Gardens version makes it a little more straightforward. You’ll also note comments about the amount of catsup in the sauce. For the Glover Gardens version, catsup is eliminated altogether in favor of tomato sauce, malt vinegar and honey instead. Spices were adjusted slightly, and dry mustard was added for just a bit more variety in the “kick”.
We made the Spicy Jerk Game Hens last night instead of waiting until Labor Day, to enjoy the leftovers all weekend. Looking around for a second side dish to compliment the spicy-sweet jerk flavors, I visited one of my favorite blogs, the Pleasant Peasant. Sure enough, there was a post about Cilantro/Lime/Jalapeño Rice With Black Beans, which inspired me to make a similar dish. Greg doesn’t publish precise recipes, but includes enough detail for readers to follow his lead and add their own jazzy riffs to his flavor ideas. I didn’t capture the recipe exactly, but here’s basically what I did. (I highly recommend visiting the Pleasant Peasant to check out his rice.)
I started a batch of basic rice by sautéing red onion and garlic in a bit of oil for a few minutes and then adding a cup of rice to brown it lightly. Looking in the refrigerator, I realized I had a zucchini and diced half of it, throwing it in with the rice to brown. To add a bit of color, I added diced red bell pepper, then some salt, pepper and two cups of homemade chicken stock, bringing it to a boil. The next step was to cover tightly, reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, I turned off the heat and let the rice sit for about 5 more. Then I gave it a big stir.
Greg had mentioned using cumin seeds in his 2nd-day treatment of the cilantro rice, so I added some to the cooked rice, and then some more goodies. These were: a can of drained black beans, chopped jalapeño, more chopped red bell pepper and red onion, and lots of cilantro.
I stirred and tasted – needs more salt! – and then threw in some golden raisins. They made all the difference. Doesn’t it look appealing? It was a great side dish for the jerk seasoning, and the beans and zucchini ratcheted up the fiber. (I always like to sneak in extra vegetables when the Grill-Meister isn’t looking.)
The other side was in my head from the moment the Grill-Meister requested the jerk chicken for dinner: grilled pineapple.
The treatment for the pineapple, jalapeños and green onions was a pre-grill drizzle and toss with olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and a shake of cayenne. Yum!
Happy Labor Day
Happy Labor Day to my American and Canadian friends, and to all of my international readers, why not use our holiday and “unofficial end of summer” as an excuse to grill?
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