Don't be a jerk: chicken with roasted sweet potato salad
All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
My first exposure to jerk chicken was at culinary school. The kitchen that served cuisines of the Americas had a Caribbean day once every three weeks that I rarely missed. The chicken's bold flavor intrigued me. It was not just hot; it started with a sweetness that gave way to a savory fire that could be quenched with the side of plantain chips. When the long winter had passed and the sun finally deigned to warm New York state, I would sit on the bluff that overlooked the Hudson River and enjoy the jerk chicken. For some reason, it always tasted better outside in the warm breeze. Last summer while in New York City, I picked up a book on Caribbean cooking from a Strand Bookstore stand in Central Park. Long story short, I gained the power to make my own jerk chicken, which I now pass on to you.
Before you begin, I must make a couple notes about the ingredients in these recipes. If you believe that sweet potatoes are orange, please take a moment to dispel that myth from your mind. Those red-skinned, orange-fleshed root vegetable are actually yams, no matter what faulty produce labeling has told you in the past. Sweet potatoes have light tan skin and white flesh, the texture of potatoes but the sweetness of yams. They are also not rare, mysterious or hard to find — you can buy them at the Albertsons off of Rosecrans Avenue.
Also, I realize the list of spices in the jerk seasoning may look intimidating and potentially expensive. However, if you run away from the jars of McCormick, you will find off-brand spices in little plastic bags for under a dollar each. They are usually located about one aisle over from the baking aisle.
Jerk Chicken and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
Adapted from: “The Caribbean, Central and South American Cookbook”
10-12 chicken drumsticks
2 teaspoons each: allspice, cinnamon, dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons raw sugar
4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons scallion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 fresh hot chili pepper, such as a red jalapeno, finely chopped
small pinch of salt
couple pinches of black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 F or set the broiler on high. If you are using the broiler setting, make sure that broiler actually has a high setting, unlike the one in the Alpha Hall kitchen. Otherwise, you will end up like me: dazed and confused upon discovering a lukewarm oven when the chicken should be almost done.
The most important part of jerk chicken is, of course, the jerk seasoning. It is also so easy, you can not possibly mess it up. Combine the allspice, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, raw sugar, garlic, scallion, vinegar, oil, lime juice, chili pepper, salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Using a fork, combine all the ingredients by mashing them together until a thick paste is formed.
Using a sharp knife, make a couple of slits on each of the chicken pieces and place them in a baking pan, such as a 9x13 cake pan or another similar pan. Pour the seasoning over all the chicken pieces and then use your hands to rub it all over the chicken, especially into the slits.
When the chicken is nicely coated, cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator to marinate. This could be for as little as four hours or as long as overnight. However, if you do not have that kind of patience or time, just skip to the next step after rubbing the jerk seasoning into the chicken well. The chicken will still taste fabulous if you do not marinate it, although you will notice bolder flavors throughout the chicken if you take that extra step.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Place the chicken on the cookie sheet, giving each piece a little bit of space. Place in the oven. If you are using a broiler, use a rack that is towards the top third of the oven. Broiler coils are always at the top of the oven and the chicken will need to be close to that heat source; under no circumstances should the chicken touch the broiler coils though; that will result in smoke, fire and other unpleasantness. Set the timer for 40 minutes.
Check the chicken by cutting into the thickest part of the meat on one of the drumsticks. The meat should be white and any juices that come out will be clear if it is ready. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
2 1/2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, small diced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 red onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 teaspoons chives, finely chopped
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
Honey Mustard Dressing
Adapted from: Alton Brown on foodnetwork.com
5 tablespoons honey; raw honey is preferable, but any kind works
3 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
small pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Toss the sweet potato in vegetable oil and place on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes; the potato should be golden brown and soft when done. This can be done before you begin to prepare the chicken, or on a lower rack in the oven while the chicken is cooking. Let the roasted sweet potato cool down before moving on.
Once the sweet potato is cool enough to handle, toss it with red bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic, chives and parsley.
Whisk together the honey, Dijon mustard, rice vinegar and salt in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad, tossing gently to incorporate without mashing the potatoes. Depending how much dressing you prefer on salads, you may not use all of it.
The next step is as simple as this recipe. Grab some paper plates and enjoy a picnic on the lawn with people you like while this abnormally warm, albeit beautiful, fall weather lasts.