White sand beaches, ocean surf, and palm trees – why aren’t I in Jamaica/the Caribbean relaxing somewhere right now?!
Maybe because it’s been crazy hot weather, but the humidity has got me remembering warm tropical places and ocean surfs. We took a cruise a couple of years ago and had about 8 hours in Nassau and I was so excited to go and find some amazing street food or a sit down meal but the hubby put the kibosh on that *sigh*. He was worried about getting sick so we ended up eating at the Hard Rock Café. The Hard Rock Café!!! Not where I was really wanting to go in Jamaica. Where’s the jerk? The conch? The culture?
Although we did just honeymoon in Cancun and both got horribly sick. Like, didn’t get out of bed couldn’t be more than 10 feet away from the bathroom kind of sick that for me lasted a whole day and for the man lasted a couple. Favorite quote, we’re laying there sick and my husband goes, “Well we said in sickness and in health.” The next day I’m snacking on cheese fries and a chocolate malt (hey I wanted something fatty, I hadn’t eaten in over a day and a half) and he’s so frustrated, “Why are you so much better already?!” (I also didn’t get sick until eight hours after him) Ha, yay for my strong constitution.
We went to Xel-Ha, an eco-park, and I’m not sure if I blame the sickness on the food there (it was a tourist destination and I tend not to trust touristy area foods because it’s not like the cooks are worried about building a repeat clientele) or the fact that we were jumping/swimming/snorkeling/zip lining in the saltwater of the bay/lagoon and kept accidently swallowing some. My philosophy in other countries is that it’s better to go off the beaten path and find where the local’s eat because those cooks and chefs tend to take more pride in their food…they also don’t want to risk poisoning their neighbors and have to face angry mobs.
If anyone has read Steve Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue book, I completely want his job. To travel around to all those different countries, eating and writing about it? Yes please, sign me up. I know anytime I’m in the Philippines I’m always grabbing ihaw or palamig and I’ve never had an issue (disclaimer: those are not my images/pages and are the property of their original owners).
So due to the hot and muggy weather, what seemed like the perfect meal (and considering I had chicken thighs in the fridge)? Jamaican Inspired Jerk Chicken! I also had some mangos since I can’t resist buying a couple every week in the summer (they call out a siren song in the grocery store), and I figured a nice mango salsa along with rice would make a perfect meal. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of my jerk; I’ve never actually had it unless I’ve made it. There’s a newer Jamaican place that opened up in Clifton and I need to get down there to try theirs for comparison (I’ve heard its good), but until then, here’s my version:
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs with Mango Salsa
Serves 4 (It looks like a lot of work, but don’t be disheartened it’s actually really easy/low effort and if you can make your significant other think it was a lot of work and wrangle a massage out of it – bonus!)
Jerk Paste and Chicken:
- 1 habanero (just cut the top off and throw it, seeds and all, in the food processor, can also use more if you like heat but be careful)
- 1 cup chopped green onion tops
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey or molasses (I prefer molasses but I’ve subbed in a pinch)
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I actually use a spiced palm vinegar but that’s just something I keep on hand)
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 garlic cloves (just cut off ends and throw in processor)
- 1 – 1 ½ lbs skinless chicken thighs (8 small ones or 4 large ones) ***Note: Since we buy whole chickens (right around 3lb ones) and break them down into parts ourselves, 8 chicken thighs ends up weighing around 1 lb 8 ounces. If you were just going to your local market it’s extremely hard to find thighs that small, so in that case I would just buy a package of 4 thighs close to the weight recommended here. You could also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs if you were so inclined, but I didn’t have time to debone the thighs.
- 2 mangoes (riper the better), diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1/3 cup red onion, diced finely
- 1/3 – ¼ cup of cilantro, chopped (could also use half cilantro/half mint for a fun twist)
- 2 tablespoons of lime juice
- ½ tablespoon of honey (optional – depends on the sweetness of the mangoes used)
- Salt to taste
- Make the Jerk: Combine all of the jerk ingredients (everything but the chicken thighs) in a food processor and processes until it forms a fine paste.
- Rub paste all over chicken thighs and let marinate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. I always de-skin my chicken parts and make stock out of the skin, etc but you don’t have to. Believe me I understand and love the deliciousness of it, but I try to go healthier when I’m at home so alas, no skin.
- Make the salsa: Combine all of the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl. Optional: I like to take about ¼ to of the salsa and puree it in my food processor then throw it back in with the rest. This way it makes more of a salsa/sauce to put over the chicken. If you do decide to puree some of it using your food processor, make sure to rinse out the processor’s bowl after the paste and before you do the salsa. I’ve also done half pineapple/half mango before, it just depends on what’s in my fridge.
- Grill chicken thighs until an internal thermometer reads 165 F, let rest for at least 10 minutes. Using small chicken thighs and my indoor home grill, it took 10 minutes per side to get my chicken done. If I were using large thighs I would do one of two things. (1) Grill them outside on gas or charcoal – this would take about 10 – 15 minutes per side or (2) Bake/Broil Them – Heat oven to 400, bake for 25 minutes. Switch oven over to broil. Broil 5 minutes, flip. Broil an additional 5 minutes (if not done at this point just flip again until done). Whichever method you choose just make sure to cook it until 165 or juices run clear, and make sure to let it rest. Serve over rice (to keep it low calorie/healthy a portion for us is 1/2 cup of brown rice).
I devoured this. Yes I was ridiculously hungry (Mondays are one of the days where I leave the house at 8 am to go to work, then go straight to class and don’t get home until 9:15 pm) but this was tasty and definitely hit the spot. Last night was extremely humid so it gave me even more of that I want to be somewhere tropical feeling, so this was the perfect dinner.
Eating it causes flavor fireworks to go off in your mouth with all of the different ingredients from the jerk paste being complemented by the mango salsa. I guess there’s a reason jerk is loved in the Caribbean and spreading around the world. No muted tastes here, just a pure punch.
And it’s easy. I mean you could prep the chicken and salsa the night before and have dinner on the table in 20 minutes (the grilling time or, put food on grill and have a drink/read a magazine/talk to friends while keeping eye on grill/oven time). It comes together even quicker if you keep ready made rice (although I just had my husband start the rice cooker before I got home). When I’ve been gone for 13 hours and still need to make dinner, this is exactly the kind of recipe I want to cook.