Those wondering what jerk chicken tastes like probably know what chicken tastes like – they want to know what the ‘Jerk’ part tastes like. Pictures of jerk chicken can look colorful and caramelized – and honestly look really good – but is it spicy or sour?
Jerk chicken is sourced from the Caribbean, where spices and sauces are added to meats on a regular basis to liven up dishes for local tongues.
Jerk chicken can certainly be spicy, and results from a style of cooking that emphasizes the use of hotter peppers and spices. The jerk cooking method is not at all set in stone, so you can enjoy the savory without feel like you are getting kicked in the tongue.
What makes Jerk chicken spicy?
We still start by pointing one thing out here: Jerk is not just a spice, it is a cooking method that involves putting a dry rub or marinade on chicken or beef before cooking it. Jerk is both the name of the spice and the cooking method.
Within the jerk spice is a spicy blend of scotch bonnet peppers. The peppers are quite local to the Caribbean, hence why they are often used in the recipe. Jerk also traditionally adds onion, allspice, garlic, and potentially cayenne,
The wet part of the marinade can include molasses, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
With the addition of molasses and brown sugar, jerk can give you a tasty combination of spicy heat with a bit of sweet.
With all of that being said, jerk chicken comes with acidic plant spices and flavors from the scotch bonnet peppers with the strong, earthy flavors of onion and garlic. It’s certainly a unique flavor, and becomes even more robust with the addition of wet marinades.
For an apt comparison, consider foods that normally would be flavored with garlic. Beef and chicken are certainly among them with the use of garlic salt. For jerk chicken, add the spiced flavors of cayenne or scotch bonnet peppers that have been rubbed in or marinated, providing a deeper flavor.
Jerk also comes with different levels of spices, of course. Scotch bonnet peppers provide heat that is more powerful than Jalapeno, which is more common in the United States. Using cayenne without peppers leads to more dry heat.
How do I make jerk chicken less spicy?
Some jerk chicken recipes call for the use of several bonnet peppers. Try using fewer peppers or using a less spicy pepper. In this situation, jalapeno is actually less spicy. You could also use cayenne or chili powder instead. You’ll still get some heat, but not as much.
What is the texture of jerk spiced chicken?
While some of the texture depends on how its cooked, let’s explore some options
Jerk spiced chicken with just the dry rub and grilled tends to be crispy. You can taste the dry rub more intensely and the earthy, potentially grainy textures of garlic or onion being cooked into the chicken meat.
A jerk marinade can make the chicken more moist outside of it’s natural meat juices. The marinade will make the chicken a bit less crispy.
Note that the marinade nor dry rub will change the texture of the chicken. The texture of the chicken is more related to it’s level of cooking, and whether it was grilled, fried, or baked.
What does Jerk chicken smell like?
If we had to use three words: Good, and spicy. Jerk chicken is going to have the aroma of spices and peppers when cooked.
You might also hear the sizzling sound of the marinade and chicken being cooked. Jerk chicken, especially on the grill, is a fun experience for all the senses – especially your mouth after it’s done.
Where can I find jerk chicken?
Most grocery store bought chicken doesn’t include much, if any flavorings. Your best bet for making jerk chicken at home is buying your preferred kind of chicken (like thighs, drumsticks, or breasts) and either getting a separate sauce or making your own. The process is fairly easy as it mostly involves adding various spices to brown sugar or molasses.
As a popular flavor in the Caribbean and United States, you can also often readily find jerk chicken at places that offer chicken wings. Depending on the place you go, the recipe may or may not be ‘authentic’, but it can give you an idea of the spice and texture of jerk recipe chicken.
We have to ask, why ‘jerk’ chicken?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly jerk chicken gained it’s name, it’s believed that 2500 or more years ago, a tribe introduced African cooking techniques to the Caribbean islands. At the time, meat was also commonly served in dry strips like beef jerky, in order to preserve. The Spanish also called the kind of meat “charqui” which has a pronunciation similar to “jerk”.
With preservation techniques becoming more modern, the same label is used to describe the spice and cooking process – and of course you can find beef and chicken jerky with “jerk” spices too.
Jerk chicken adds some serious flavor and spice to what can otherwise be a boring meat. The recipe relies upon traditions taught in the Caribbean islands a couple of thousand years ago and has been welcomed in various forms in the United States.
Jerk is also reasonably easy to make at home since it’s just a dry rub or marinade. It’s also more readily made to suit the tongues of everyone present when made by yourself – you can control the amount and kind of peppers that give your jerk chicken that “pop.”
Tiffany McCauley is a celebrated food and travel journalist and cookbook author known for her engaging stories on culinary adventures and cultural insights. With a background featuring collaborations with notable brands and publications, Tiffany brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to Fanatically Food, where she champions taste, sustainability, and the art of cooking. Read More Here