This week I wrote about spicy jerk chicken sandwiches and if you’re not a jerk, please continue reading.
NO JERKS ALLOWED TO READ AFTER THIS POINT
If you’ve never had jerk chicken before, it’s spicy and a little fruity from allspice and chili peppers. Seasonings like ginger, lime and thyme leaves are included to balance things out. Most jerk chicken is warm from the spices and the chili pepper heat and smoky from the grilling/smoking process.
Jerk as a cooking style was being prepared way back at least as early as the 1600’s in the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica. The word jerk is said to have evolved from charqui, a Spanish term, that stood for strips of dried meat. Eventually the word charqui led to the English word of jerky.
In Jamaica, food that is jerk seasoned and then cooked in jerk fashion is typically smoked over wood. In most cases, it’s pimento wood. Pimento wood is from the same plant that gives us pimento berries, which American shoppers and cooks would know of as Allspice. None of this has anything to do with the pimento for our cheese, so we won’t start talking about that.
So, as we’ve covered, jerk usually refers to the marinade and seasoning as well as the cooking technique. In this blog post, I’m making an easy jerk chicken that you can cook at your house, so I’m not as concerned with the cooking process/technique as I am of the jerk marinade and seasoning. The cooking process I use for my jerk chicken is typically just grilled over coals, but some of these sandwiches I cooked indoors on a grill pan, which is very far from a wood smoked process. As always, don’t look to me for authenticity, but I am doing my best to pay homage to the flavors of the source.
The control jerk
I learned about Walkerswood brand jerk seasoning almost ten years ago from a local friend who cooked jerk chicken thighs at an annual party that his family held. He’d have a grill full of a whole lot of jerk seasoned thighs and I fell in love with the sauce and flavors. I assumed that he made his own sauce, but it turns out when I politely asked for the recipe, he said it was Walkerswood.
I’ve grilled jerk chicken plenty of times since I first tried Walkerswood, but I’ve only made my own jerk seasoning a couple times (prior to this twitter poll). All the other times I’d made jerk wings or jerk chicken sandwiches, I relied on the old standby bottled seasoning.
I found the recipe that I have made before and decided to tweak it to be closer to Walkerwood. Just to make sure I remembered the flavors of the store-bought seasoning, I decided to make one with the official packaged version as a “control” sandwich to get a baseline for what I wanted.
One thing I noticed in the Walkerwood ingredient list that I didn’t have in the jerk recipe that I had tweaked and made in the past was brown sugar. So, I knew I would try at least one version with an addition of brown sugar.
If you’ve been around these parts, you’ll guess that we’re back to my favorite soft bun recipe, the soft potato roll. I baked a bunch. Most of these I seasoned on top with sesame seeds and some I did not.
Whole egg wash vs egg white wash
For a bun with toppings, you just need an egg wash prior to baking. An egg wash is typically either a whole egg cracked in a bowl or an egg white in a bowl, with a tablespoon of water. Whisk all of this up and then you paint it on a bun prior to baking. This can be done to add color, shinyness or in this case we’re primarily using an egg wash to add seeds that will stick to the top of the buns.
Once the egg wash is painted on, you sprinkle any sorts of things that you’d like to be stuck to the top of buns. In this case, it is sesame seeds, but you can use poppy seeds, everything bagel seasoning, rice krispies or anything lighter than stones that would stick. Once baked, the egg wash “glues” stuff to the bun.
If you use a whole egg + water, you will get a shiny surface that browns well under the seeds. If you use just egg white + water, you will have less browning and less of a shiny surface under the seeds. It all just depends on what result you’re shooting for. The two images of jerk sandwiches below should give you a visual idea of the difference between a whole egg wash vs an egg white wash.
As you can see from the two images above that there’s a fairly large difference, visually, between whole egg wash and egg white wash. But it’s just a visual thing, there’s no difference in flavor or texture of the bun.
Once baked, DO NOT put any melted butter on your seeded buns, but DO paint butter on your non-seeded buns. The butter will flavor the top of the bun, but the main purpose of the butter is to make sure you’re left with a soft exterior on a soft sandwich bun.
Painting melted butter on a seeded bun will probably do something similar, but it could also shake loose a lot of the seeds as well.
Here’s my bun recipe that I used with all these sandwiches.
The pineapple lime slaw
Slaws are great additions to sandwiches. They’re easy to make and they add crunchy texture and, in this case, they can bring some cooling elements to complement the heat of the jerk seasoning. Most slaws that I make have vinegar in them, except for this one where the citrusy lime juice substitutes for vinegar tang. The pineapple adds a solid sweetness that pairs well with the flavors from the jerk seasoning.
I used bone-in skin-on chicken thighs for all these sandwiches, but you can accomplish the same thing with boneless skinless thighs or even chicken breasts if you’d prefer. Buying boneless, skinless thighs would save you some trouble, but chicken thighs only have one bone, so they’re not that hard to de-bone.
I was mostly using skin-on chicken thighs here to see if I could get some useful crispy skin during grilling, and I did, but the crispyness of the skin was mostly lost in the slaw and sandwiching process, so in the future I would just suggest using boneless/skinless thighs or breast pieces.
The jerk (you)
Just kidding, I’m sure you’re not a jerk, maybe.
My jerk seasoning recipe isn’t a copy of Walkerswood’s version, but the flavors are similar. It would probably take me months of attempts to get anywhere close to a copy and that wasn’t my intention or expectation anyway. If you want a super popular Jamaican jerk recipe that you can buy in most stores, I’ve already told you the name brand, and you should buy that when you’re looking to cut corners (I do from time to time).
The three biggest ingredients we’re working with here are scotch bonnet (or habenero peppers), thyme leaves and allspice. After that the flavors we’re mostly going for in jerk seasoning are a few warming spices like cinnamon or nutmeg and some fresh ginger. But spice from the peppers, flavors from allspice and thyme is what comes through the most for me.
In this run through on this recipe I used habanero peppers, but I have used scotch bonnet in the past. Habanero peppers are a little easier in my experience to find in the store than scotch bonnets, but that may vary from store to store. You can use either, but scotch bonnet peppers are more traditional, and they are also TWICE as spicy as habanero. Just keep that in mind.
A few minutes with all the jerk seasonings in a food processor and you’re left with a semi-liquidy spread or mash to season chicken in for the next 24 hours (or at least overnight).
Then you grill the meat. For some of these I grilled indoors on a grill pan, but MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN EXHAUST FAN. This is a big deal because some of these ingredients will get into your lungs and make you cough. Maybe open a window too.
Build your own jerk
The jerk store called and you’re late for work. It’s past time to build sandwiches.
The jerk chicken sandwich recipe
Here’s my jerk chicken sandwich recipe. You can use any slaw you want, but I do suggest the pineapple, lime version linked above if you are planning to give this a shot.
Marinating overnight in a super flavorful marinade helps these chicken sandwiches pack extra flavor into a tasty package. You can easily control the spice level by limiting or adding additional peppers.
Ingredients:Jerk seasoning and chicken
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice (or grind whole allspice berries)
- 3 or 4 habanero chiles or 1 to 2 Scotch bonnet chiles, stems removed and roughly chopped
- 3 scallions, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced in small pieces
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- 4 boneless chicken thighs (skin on or skinless are both fine - can also use breast meat)
- 4 soft burger style buns
- slaw (Pineapple lime slaw)
- 4 pieces of grilled jerk chicken
- 4 slices of cheese (optional)
Add all your Jerk seasoning ingredients (except the chicken) to the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse until you have a rough paste.
Add your chicken thighs or breast meat to a large zip-top bag.
Once you have a paste-like jerk seasoning, pour it into the bag with your chicken, remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Massage the chicken and the seasoning in the bag until most of the chicken seems like it's covered by the jerk seasoning paste.
Place the bag with jerk seasoned chicken into the refrigerator and let it rest overnight or at least 8 hours.
Once your chicken has been resting in the jerk seasoning for at least 8 hours, you can remove it from the bag and prepare it for grilling. I suggest doing this outdoors if you can over medium-high heat of a charcoal or gas grill. Cook each piece of chicken for around 5 minutes per side or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 C). You can grill this indoors on a grill pan as well or cook in a skillet if you'd prefer that.
WARNING: If you cook this indoors, make sure you have an exhaust fan running or open a window because this marinade may cause you to cough if you inhale a lot of it during the cooking process.
If you plan to have cheese on your sandwiches, I suggest you add the cheese when there are about 2 minutes of cooking time left on the grilling process. Place the cheese on top of the fully cooked side and the cheese will get all soft and melty while the other side of the chicken finishes cooking.
Once the chicken is fully cooked, move them all to a plate to rest. At this point, I like to toast my buns. You can toast them on the grill or pan that you just used or if the pan is too messy from the chicken cooking, you can toast under a broiler. The goal is just to get a bit of crunch and texture to the bun. You can skip this if you don't want toasted buns.
Add any condiments to the bottom bun and add one piece of cheese to each bottom bun.
Top each piece of chicken with slaw and the top of the toasted bun. Serve and enjoy.
And below are a bunch of jerk chicken sandwiches I ate over the past 8 or 10 days.
Extra pineapples, jerk
Some of these jerk chicken sandwiches got extra pineapple and I’m pretty sure they were better than the others.
And that’s how I make jerk chicken sandwiches. Try the recipes and let me know how it worked out.
Check back next week when I am turning something that some folks think isn’t a sandwich into something that is definitely a sandwich. And guess who will get the last laugh!? (it’s me)