One of my favorite Brooklyn traditions is to go to the East Indian Day parade with my friend Josh Fruhlinger. We do this every year without fail. We meet up around 11am, make sure we don’t have too much money in our pockets (too much cash leads to over eating), and head out to the food carts. It’s our one time of the year to get what we call “the real deal” and to experience the Caribbean influence on our Brooklyn neighborhoods in it’s full glory. If you live in Brooklyn you have to do this at least once for the shear visual craziness… trust me.
The Caribbean influence in Brooklyn is undeniable, from Canarsie to Prospect Heights, the Caribbean people have been such a strong part of the Brooklyn identity for the past 30 plus years. The people, music, culture and cuisine has seeped it’s way into every neighborhood of Brooklyn and livened them up. I remember having my first roti when I was 12 years old somewhere off of Eastern Parkway and falling in love immediately with the richness of the goat curry wrapped in a hand made flat bread. This was a cuisine I never experienced at home and was hooked from the start. But the one part of the Caribbean cuisine that back then, and every time I go to the parade, I yearn for is Jerk Chicken. A really good homemade Jerk Chicken has no other rivals as far as I am concerned. You can’t even step to it… period. The spice, aroma, char and juiciness is a perfect balance of island style and spirit in one simple dish. Each bite grows more and more complex and makes you feel like you are sitting on the beach even in the coldest North East winter.
Josh and I try at least 3 to 5 different types every year and for days later discuss what we liked and what we didn’t like. Which vendor had a “gringo jerk chicken” and which vendor was “the real deal”. From all those experiences I developed my own taste meter for Jerk Chicken, that mango jam some of these guys put on it is straight up nasty. I found the things that work for my palette and the things that just don’t do it for me. The recipe that follows is my own version of Jerk Chicken that combines some traditional Caribbean spice blends and also incorporates some new Brooklyn cooking techniques. Hopefully you will find this recipe a perfect blend that has you begging for a Dark n’ Stormy on the streets of Eastern Parkway during the East Indian Day parade.
Cast Iron Jerk Chicken
I will say first and foremost that this recipe is a mix of things I have tried and things that I like. It is not meant as an authentic recipe but it comes pretty damn close, in my eyes. I think the cooking technique helps to add another layer of texture and taste that is a bit surprising. The pan sauce helps to carry the ginger counterpart flavor with some lime to level out all the spices. Give it a try on a cold weeknight and you will be warmed up instantly and transported to a much brighter place…even for a mere few hours.
- 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. ground allspice
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 4 habenero chiles, stemmed and de-veined (Scotch Bonnet chiles are even better)
- 4 scallions chopped
- 2 shallots chopped
- kosher salt and cracked pepper
- 2 limes
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 16 oz bottle of ginger beer
- 1 whole small chicken halved
- 1 cast iron skillet that both halves of the chicken can fit into
- 1 heavy pan to cover the chicken as well as some cans or weights to weigh the chicken down.
Take the first 12 ingredients and pulse in a food processor until you get a well combined paste. It will have a “gray” looking consistency with flakes of brightness. Get a good sized bowl and cover the chicken completely in the paste. Rub it in really well and make sure to get into every crevice and crack, cover with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge. Do this a day to 12 hours before hand to get the optimum flavor penetration. Here I like to go with an overnight rest to get the best flavor intensity. Make sure to take the chicken out about an hour before you are ready to cook so you can bring the chicken back to room temperature by letting it rest on your counter. When you are ready to get this all cooking get your skillet on a high flame and put about 1 tbsp. of canola oil in it. Make sure to try and wipe off any clumps of the paste that may still be on the chicken. When you see a little smoke rising from the pan put your chicken skin side down. Ah… the lovely sound of searing. Place the other pan and weights (you can used other canned foods to do this) on top of the chicken to “press” it down into the skillet. Reduce the flame to medium as not to burn the chicken. Let the chicken cook for about 11-13 minutes on the skin side without moving it. Take off the weights and the other skillet off the chicken and turn the chicken over to cook for another 4-6 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees. That should be a perfect amount of doneness. Don’t be tempted to cook it more than that. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place on a cutting board to rest. As the chicken is resting raise the flame to medium high and pour in half of the ginger beer in the pan and scrape up all, as we say, “the good bits” from the bottom of the pan. Add the butter and the rest of the ginger beer as well as the juice of one lime. Lower the heat to medium and let it reduce till about 1/3 of the liquid remains. Turn the heat off and be ready to serve. Put the chicken on a serving plate, pour your pan juice and sprinkle the top of the chicken with the zest of one lime. Jerk Chicken is served.
You will get all those same island favors and aromas that you have come to expect from Jerk Chicken with a little added punch from the pan sauce and searing. The lime and ginger from the sauce will be a nice companion to the spices of the rub that have seared off perfectly. I suggest you mess around with the heat level by adjusting the chiles if you are not a fan of heat. When I make it your lips tend to have a post meal “tingle” to say the least. But then again that’s the whole point of Jerk Chicken, to wake and heat you up at anytime of the year…especially when it’s cold as it tends to get in Brooklyn in the winter.
NOTE: I will be posting the recipe for the Collard Greens soon…