Chosen Bites: A culinary get-away

Even if you can’t go on vacation from the usual, your palate can with this recipe for Jamaican Jerk Chicken.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken 370 (photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Jamaican Jerk Chicken 370
(photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Playing it safe is the norm when it comes to preparing meals in most households. We reach for our reliable stand-by dishes and never leave our comfort zones. Often the usual is easy and doesn’t ruffle any feathers. Sometimes those meals are necessary, they are familiar and often at your fingertips. On a busy night, that can be certainly handy. But, once in a while it's good to shake things up.
Even if you can’t go on vacation from the usual, your palate can.
A break from the routine is all that's necessary to stretch your palate and to get your family excited about dinner again. Sometimes it's just good to try something different and bring new aromas, flavors and ingredients to your home. When I feel myself slipping into the same old routine I try to remember Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's famous quote, which says: "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star." I believe that.
What to pack on your culinary trip?
Just remember that a great meal transcends all cultural boundaries. Bold and brave taste buds are essential, a willingness to try the unusual or at least something new and a “what the hell” attitude. If you don’t like it or the dish doesn’t work out, try, try again.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. The mixture of spices, herbs, peppers and citrus juices are called Jerk seasoning. Chicken, fish, lamb or vegetables are marinated in the seasoning and then grilled to achieve a smoky and spicy final result. No grill? No problem. The same zesty and flavorful results can be had with a sturdy skillet.
The Scotch Bonnet chili pepper is a traditional ingredient in Jamaican Jerk. Scotch Bonnets are HOT. If you are not packing a cast iron stomach on your culinary adventure, you can substitute your favorite chili pepper or use a smaller amount of the Scotch Bonnet until you are familiar with its heat. I like to use a fruity habanero when Scotch Bonnets are not available.
Whichever chili you use, the fun begins when you serve something from a different part of the world and your family experiments with flavors and ingredients. Bon Voyage!
Serve the chicken with rice, sweet potatoes and your favorite vegetables. Garnish with sliced limes.
½ cup packed light brown sugar 1 tablespoon ground allspice
4 scallions, minced ½ cup peanut or canola oil 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons kosher salt 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped ¼ cup fresh lime juice 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg ½ teaspoon ground cloves 8 cloves garlic, minced 1-2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced (I wear gloves when handling these chilies as the capsaicin can irritate eyes and mucous membranes) 2 chickens, quartered
1. Combine sugar, allspice, scallions, oil, pepper, salt, ginger, juice, soy sauce, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, garlic, and chilies in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture forms a paste. Add chicken; toss to coat in jerk marinade. Cover and marinate at least 6 hours, or overnight.
2. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium. (Alternatively, heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat.) Place the chicken, skin side down. Continue cooking until the marinade forms a crust on the outside, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken and cover the grill. Continue cooking until cooked through, about 30-40 minutes. (Alternatively, transfer the chicken to a foil-lined baking sheet; bake in a 176 C. oven until done.)
Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.