Tandoori-Inspired Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Ever since I learned how to make Tandoori Chicken, I've been a big fan of using yogurt in chicken marinades. In certain proportions and within certain marinating periods, it subtly tenderizes the meat and enhances its natural flavor, texture and juiciness without imparting any yogurt flavor.

The acid and cultures also help the marinade to penetrate more quickly and effectively, seasoning the flesh to the bone without creating that brined-like cured texture that often occurs when meat is left to sit in a salty solution for an extended period of time.

It's similar to the result you get with buttermilk, but in some ways more efficient because of the lower liquid content that not only reduces the amount of seasoning needed to achieve the desired flavor but also lessens the amount of liquid uptake into the protein that can, counterintuitively, cause an internal steaming effect during cooking that can actually ultimately result in a drier and/or spongier texture to the meat.

I used this method with my Viet-Inspired Tandoori Chicken, and it worked beautifully, so I tried it with my Jamaican Jerk Chicken for this month's Cookalong, and it did not disappoint.

You can grill this chicken low and slow as you would any other Jerk Chicken preparation, but I like the reliability and predictability of oven heat, so I added some liquid smoke to the marinade and did a high heat roast (450F) instead. Not tandoor-level heat by any stretch - they can get up to about 900F if I recall correctly - but it's a totally workable solution that produces a pretty tasty and consistent result.

My recipe is adapted from this Saveur Jerk Chicken recipe, but you can modify your favorite Jerk recipe by adding 1/2 a cup of yogurt, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a teaspoon of sugar.

Tandoori-Inspired Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
Time: About 15 minutes prep, 6 to 24 hours to marinate, and about 60 minutes to cook

- 10 to 12 bone-in, skin-on chicken drums and/or thighs, scored twice on the skin side, about 1/4" deep, 2 inches long, and about an inch apart

For the marinade:

- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
- 5 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons dried thyme
- 4 teaspoons ground allspice
- 8 cloves garlic
- up to 8 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies
- 5 green onions, cut into 2-inch segments
- 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
- 1 one-inch piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 to 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

1) Place all the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. If you want to make extra dipping sauce, reserve 2/3 cup of marinade and set aside.

2) Put chicken in a large mixing bowl or other container and pour the remainder of the marinade over it, mixing it gently but thoroughly to evenly season each piece.

A gallon capacity Ziploc type bag is great for even marinating - specially if you lay all the meat in a single layer, suction all the air out of it, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Even then, you may wish to flip the bag halfway through the marinating time just to make sure.

If you're marinating in a more solid container like I do, you'll want to redistribute the chicken 3 or 4 times during the marinating period to ensure even seasoning.

If you're going to mix the chicken by hand, I recommend wearing gloves, and particularly if you've used all 8 chilies. If you're lucky enough to get away with bare-handed mixing without resulting capsaicin burn on your fingers and under your nails, you might be unlucky later and realize that the trace amounts left on your fingers that your fingers didn't feel are enough to burn, shall we say, more sensitive tissue. That's why I like to put everything in a large mixing bowl and toss/stir it with a big cooking spoon or spatula.

Let chicken marinate for at least 6 and up to 24 hours before cooking.

3) An hour before cooking, take the chicken out of the fridge and lay it in a single layer on either a sturdy sheet pan (not cookie sheet) with a grill rack over it (my preferred method) or on a broiler pan with slats, skin side up, and let it come up to room temp. I mention this often, but bringing your protein up to room temp results in a better outer sear, which results in more internal juiciness.

5) 20 minutes before cooking, preheat your oven to 450F. Put the chicken on the center rack of the oven and roast for 40 to 55 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. The chickens I use are usually about 4 pounds, and their drums and thighs aren't all that big, so 40 minutes was plenty for me.

If you buy drums and thighs in your typical supermarket pre-pack, it's more than likely that your chicken is bigger than my chicken, and will require somewhere between 50 to 55 minutes. But another great thing about the yogurt marinade is that it is quite forgiving, and you don't have to worry that the extra 5 minutes of roasting time just to be safe is going to dry out your bird.

If you're making the dipping sauce...

Preheat a small sauce pan to medium with a half Tablespoon of oil in it, pour in the reserved marinade, bring to a gentle boil for about a minute, then turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for another 3 or 4 minutes. Because that marinade hasn't touched chicken, technically you don't have to cook it for food safety purposes, but the caramelization and concentration of flavors that happens when you do this quick boil and simmer has the effect of deepening and rounding out all the flavors, giving you a side sauce that's almost as yummy as the sauce that's cooked on to the chicken.

This was about 7 hours of marinating time, and you can
see how the chicken retains its natural texture
and juices with the yogurt marinade.

And that's it! If you don't already have a favorite Rice and Peas recipe to serve with, here's mine.

Enjoy. :)



  1. Goddamit 2014- still help me confirm I can use my tandoori techniques in jerk! Thank u!


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