Note: We like to toast and grind our own dried chile peppers for better flavor, but you can certainly just use your favorite chili powder or your own combination of dried chiles.
As the jaded palates of many Americans drive up the demand for spicier foods, real flavor is a frequent casualty. As hot wings and spicy variations of everything from chain burgers to snack mixes proliferate as fast as we can purchase them, complexity and pungency are often tossed to the wayside, completely out-stripped by heat level.
This is not some crotchety enemy of spicy food lamenting how everything "these days" is too hot: I spent most of my youth searching for the hottest foods and condiments the way most kids jones for their next sugar fix. I love heat, as some of my more unfortunate dinner guests will attest to (while coughing). Luckily, I have backed down from my all-spicy, all-the-time hardline over the years, as I've grown perhaps a little too considerate to continue brazenly spicing what others will eat. Every now and then though, I have to remind myself "who I am," so to speak, and concoct something that makes my upper lip perspire. Woe be to the person who happens to be over for dinner (sorry Megan) on these incendiary occasions.
This last week, I had one of my spice relapses and decided to make an unspeakably hot batch of Jamaican Jerk Chicken. To my surprise, Megan was almost as enthusiastic about them as I was. I'm beginning to worry that I'm a bad influence. Of course, for those who do not like the painful endorphin releases caused by blisteringly hot food, the pepper amounts (and type) can be varied accordingly. Best of all, regardless of how hot you like your chicken, the heat will be accompanied by more flavors than you can shake a stick at: mustard, basil, thyme, freshly ground allspice, cloves, orange, lime, scallion... absolutely delicious. The only trick: give the paste as much time as possible to infuse the chicken with all of its goodness.
As for accompaniment, we loved this with rice, beans, and sauteed greens. If there are leftovers, just think of how good it will be in a burrito with a dab of sour cream. I might have to make another batch to try that out. Happy grilling!
Combine in a food processor or blender and puree:
1⁄3 cup fresh lime juice
Up to 10 habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers (three is fine for most everyone, six is not, eight is probably too many)
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
(2 tablespoons fresh orange juice)
3 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds (highly recommended) or 1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
The mixture should have the consistency of thick tomato sauce. If necessary, thin with additional:
(Lime juice, vinegar, or orange juice)
Brush the jerk mixture over:
8 whole chicken legs or 8 bone-in chicken breast halves
You can slap it on the grill right then and there, or refrigerate and let marinate in a bowl or plastic bag for 1 hour or more (preferably three, ideally twelve). The flavor payoff is worth planning ahead.
To grill, lightly oil the grill rack and prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Spread the hot coals on one side of the grill. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side down on the side of the grill away from the coals. Cover the grill and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook 15 to 20 minutes more.
To cook in the oven, preheat the broiler. Arrange the leg quarters skin side down on a broiler tray. Place the pan 8 inches beneath broiler for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up and broil until browned and crisp and the meat registers 170°F on a thermometer, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the skin begins to char before the chicken is done, move the pan farther from the heat. Remove to a platter and let stand 10 to 15 minutes.