Yes, you read the title correctly. I’ve recently done a jerk chicken that involved not only the ghost chili, one of the world’s hottest peppers, but also a touch of licorice. It all came about thanks to an abundance of ghost chilies as well as a generous donation of licorice from Danish licorice wizard Johan Bülow. But before I get ahead of myself…
What on earth is Jerk chicken?
Jerk (or jerk seasoning) is a Jamaican original spice blend and is pretty broadly considered the national dish of Jamaica, at least abroad. It’s a warming mix of indigenous spices such as allspice and nutmeg blended with thyme, onion, ginger, garlic and super hot chilies such as Habanero or Scotch Bonnet. It is usually blended with soy sauce, oil, lime juice, sugar and rum to create a thick and insanely spicy slurry somewhere between a marinade and a rub.
In Jamaica, it’s used on everything from chicken to pork and firm flesh fish, possibly worse, but in my kitchen it’s usually used on chicken. With great results, I might add. Jerk chicken has been a favorite of mine for years now and I keep trying to think of new twists on the rather classic dish. Since I’ve been playing around a lot with the super hot ghost chili over the last week or so, it didn’t take long for me to put two and two together and go “hey, I wonder if I could do a take on jerk chicken using Ghost Chilies instead of the usual Habaneros? “. And it didn’t take me much longer to really turn things up side down by going “… and I wonder if I could somehow work some of the fancy artisan cooking licorice I got from Johan Bülow into the mix?”
You wanna do what to the chicken now?
As mentioned in an early post on this very site, Danish chefs and licorice aficionados alike are doing a huge effort to introduce licorice into the savory kitchen. I’ve found this development not only slightly odd but also very intriguing, and since I’ve recently found myself with a pretty nice stash of quality licorice on my hands, I’ve been dying to give it a try. The only question is: how? A while back as I brainstormed out loud, my good friend and culinary muse Tina suggested chicken and licorice, and a few days ago, I thought “well, why the hell not?” But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I started out by going to the store and getting the best free range chicken my money could buy on the day. Since I was listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd as I brought her home, I ended up calling her Free Bird. Once home, I washed her well, inside and out, removing and trimming any odd bits and pieces that didn’t look like they belonged.
Free Bird? To those not familiar with classic rock, I apologize for the confusion. Free Bird is a power ballad of epic proportions from Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’m sorry, but you’ll just might have to deal with such strange references when reading my posts.
I then threw together a modified jerk marinade consisting of a few familiar ingredients such as thyme, nutmeg, allspice and soy along with a healthy little ripe ghost chili and a heaping teaspoon of raw licorice powder. You can find the entire recipe at the bottom of this post. I gave it a taste to make sure I was on the right path and besides nearly getting my head blown off by the raw ghost chili, my suspicion was confirmed: It worked! The licorice added deep notes of quite unexpected yet strangely familiar spicy licorice flavors that blended in extremely well with the traditional flavors.
After congratulating myself on a marinade well done, I commenced to thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with the marinade. Full coverage is pretty essential here, so it’s probably not a job for the squeamish. You may even want to make a few shallow slashes through the skin and into the chicken to make sure the marinate penetrates properly and you’ll want to do as I say, not as I did and let the bird marinate in the fridge overnight.
Now, having already thoroughly used and abused the chicken, I decided to do some more harm to it by forcing a beer can up its, well, you know. You may already by now have heard about beer can chicken (or coke can chicken for the abstinent people out there), the rather odd practice of roasting a chicken with a can of beer (or coke) up it’s crevice. If not, you should look into the technique, it’s a really easy and fun way of producing a flavorful moist chicken.
How to make beer can chicken: For the sake of keeping this post somewhat brief, I’ve not included instructions of beer can chicken. You can find a very nice recipe right here. This works very well in the oven as well.
Anyway, this step is entirely optional, but does add flavor and moisture and since I do own a roasting rig that accommodates both a chicken and a can of beer, I thought “why not?” – at any rate, it makes for a fun and really odd-looking roasting setup.
Having set everything up, I roasted my chicken at 165 degrees Celsius (325 Fahrenheit) for, well, I don’t know how long. The important thing when roasting a chicken (as with any other type of meat) is to go by temperature, not time. So use the thermometer that came with your oven or invest in an accurate thermometer and use it – it’s one of the best tips I can give you! Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh, making sure not to touch the bone. Then keep an eye on it or set an alarm to go off once it hits about 70 degrees Celsius.
Another good tip is to not trust people who tell you to roast your chicken to an internal temperature of 80 degrees Celsius (175 Fahrenheit). It just kills the bird. I go no higher than 74 degrees (165 Fahrenheit) on mine, and I usually pull it at a little before that, even, as the temperature continues to rise after cooking due to carryover heat.
But what about food safety? Good question, that! If you ask me, people have grown a little too obsessed over the last few years on the issue of food safety. While it is true that you should be very careful when handling raw poultry, there’s no reason to cook your bird to a crisp. Star chef Heston Blumenthal, for example, advocates cooking chicken to only 60 degrees and keeping the temperature there for at least a good 15 minutes. While I do think that’s still a little undercooked, I haven’t heard of any people dying or getting sick at his hands. Handle your bird with care and make sure it reaches 70 degrees in both the breast and thigh area before pulling from the oven, and you’ll be fine. That’s my take on things, anyway.
When my bird hit target temperature, I pulled it from the oven, relieved it of its beer can and let it rest covered loosely with foil. Resting allows the juices to redistribute through the meat and makes for a juicier bird. I established that the low and slow cooking had made for a juicy but not quite golden brown and delicious bird. So while the bird rested, I boosted the oven to as high as it would go, I then basted the chicken with a little leftover marinate and some oil and briefly returned it to the oven to brown and crisp up the skin. I made sure to pay attention during this step, it’s a fine line between crisp and burned. The end result was a much browner, much prettier bird.
I carefully cut the bird into pieces (something I still suck at) and served it up on a plate with one of my all time favorite jerk chicken side dishes: Wild rice boiled in chicken broth and coconut milk with kidney beans and green onion tops. It’s a simple and delicious side dish that’s even borderline healthy, try it!
Ghost chili and licorice jerked beer chicken
- One whole free range chicken the best you can afford
- One bunch of spring onions roughly chopped
- One Ghost chili can substitute Habanero or Scotch Bonnet
- 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
- 1-2 teaspoons allspice adjust to taste
- 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg adjust to taste
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 teaspoons raw licorice powder
- A splash of Jamaican dark rum Appleton Estate works well
- Juice of one lime
- Two tablespoons of soy sauce
- A tablespoon of either sugar honey, dark cane syrup or molasses
Combine all ingredients except chicken (duh!) in a food processor or blender and process until smooth
Wash and clean chicken thoroughly inside and out
Generously rub and massage marinade into chicken inside and out, really work it in there.
Optional: For best but less pretty results, slash breasts and thighs of chicken with a sharp knife and work the marinade in even further.
Cover chicken and leave to marinate in fridge for at least a few hours, preferably overnight
Remove chicken from fridge
Preheat grill, smoker, oven or heating device of choice. Aim for a temperature of about 165 degrees Celsius (325 Fahrenheit)
Generously salt chicken
Roast chicken until internal temperature hits at least 70 degrees in thickest part of chest and thigh
Evacuate chicken and let rest covered for at least ten minutes before carving and serving
The jerk marinate above includes some traditional ingredients and probably excludes some as well. A jerk marinade is a very personal thing and differs from chef to chef. This is just my take, adjusted to account for the licorice being added. You should always taste your marinade and adjust according to personal preferences. That’s exactly why some of the measurements above are a bit loose. When tasting the marinade, remember that raw ghost chilies are extremely hot, the burn will lessen considerably when cooked.
One of the reasons for coming up with this dish in the first place was to try out licorice as an ingredient in savory dishes. I did this with some apprehension, but licorice as a savory ingredient CAN work, and in the case of this Caribbean dish it worked quite well and added an entirely new dimension. It is somewhat of an odd sensation, though and you’ll want to make sure not to overdo it. As far as cooking with licorice goes, I suggest working with raw, unsweetened licorice powder and using it sparingly. Chicken, certainly, is one application that works well, I would assume pork and other white meats would work, too. There’s really only one way to find out and I’m happy to report that I’ve got a few more experiments coming up. For one thing, I’ve got a play date set up with Tina next weekend involving a pork loin, dark beer and more licorice.