Deep, dark and delicious thanks to an intensely aromatic blend of herbs and spices, jerk chicken is perhaps the best-known Jamaican street food. It’s always cooked outside, often in old oil barrels converted to grills, and it’s pretty much always served with rice and peas – although the ‘peas’ are actually black beans. This is a recipe to save for a barbecue as it just won’t taste the same if cooked in the oven.
Note: you will need to begin this recipe several hours before you want to eat, or even the day before, as the chicken needs time to marinate.
For the jerk spice paste, place the ginger, garlic, chillies and oil in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the allspice, cinnamon, paprika, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir well. Rub the spice paste all over the chicken legs – you may want to wear gloves for this as the chillies are mighty hot! Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
When you are ready to cook the chicken, light the barbecue. If you are using a gas barbecue, fire up one side to get it really hot; if you are using charcoal, heap the coals to one side to give you a hot side and a cool side. Place the chicken on the hot side and cook for about 10–15 minutes, turning regularly until lightly charred all over. Then move to the cool side of the grill and shut the lid. Leave for 20–30 minutes, until cooked through, turning occasionally – the cooking time very much depends on the temperature of the grill and the size of the chicken legs. It’s better to cook low and slow than end up with a charred outside and a raw inside. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 75°C/170°F.
While the chicken is grilling, make the rice and peas. Take a medium-sized saucepan with a snug-fitting lid and add the rice. Pour in the coconut milk and 200ml water and add the allspice, thyme, oregano and chilli. Stir well and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Stir the black beans through the rice and set over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid and boil for exactly 1 minute. Turn off the heat, but do not remove the lid. Leave the rice to finish cooking undisturbed for 13 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff lightly with a fork. Season to taste with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, then serve the chicken alongside the rice and peas with lime wedges on the side.