Woohoo! The temperature and humidity has dropped here in Houston, the thick clouds of mosquitoes have thinned out a bit and we are starting to feel our reverse spring fever, where finally everyone is getting back outdoors to enjoy the lovely weather. Its the kind of feeling the rest of the country gets in springtime where you just can’t get enough of being outside, and somehow the whole world is happier, freer and more relaxed. It reminds me of the feelings I got while visiting Jamaica several times, both for work and for pleasure, in 1 B.C. That is, the year before the birth of my first child. There was this feeling of freedom and relaxation that I just can’t wait to get back to one day.
Now, while the rest of the country is preparing to hunker down for cooler nights, day-time temperatures here are still in the mid-80′s (downright chilly for a few of the natives!) and you can still find ripe mangoes in the stores. So I thought a little Jamaican jerk chicken with a fresh mango cucumber relish would be the perfect thing to celebrate the freedom of being able to play in our backyard once again.
Jerk not only refers to the seasoning that is used on the chicken, but also the method of cooking that Jamaicans employ. There are now many variations to the traditional method, but it often entails marinating the chicken then grilling it in an oil-drum pit over charcoal. Street-side Jamaican jerk is delectable. The recipe below is a lot simpler, and only closely resembles the whole experience. But it can still take you away to the Caribbean, if only briefly, mon.
Scotch bonnet, thyme and allspice are the signature spices of jerk seasoning. Scotch bonnet is one of the hottest peppers in the world, similar to a Habañero. Its Scoville unit (that which is used to measure the heat of peppers) is between 200,000 and 300,000. Compare that to the mere 4500 of the Jalapeño pepper, and you might think a Jalapeño is just a sweet pepper. Before you get scared off, however, the heat of this dish hits you only briefly on the lips and tongue and is quickly assuaged by the fresh relish. Its not a whole-mouth-on-fire type of heat, such as I have experienced with ‘native’ Thai and Sri Lankan food.
I hope you can still get mangoes where you live. If not, you could substitute peach or another stone-fruit, although nothing is comparable to a juicy, ripe mango. Since mango is not a very sweet fruit, I added just a bit of sugar to the relish, but made sure not to overdo it.
I still have some jerk seasoning that I brought back from Jamaica and its still quite potent. You can probably find jerk seasoning in your local grocery store. But as always, check the ingredients, because you never know when some company is going to decide to add something funky that won’t agree with us gluten-intolerants. On the other hand, you could also make your own jerk seasoning pretty quickly (recipe below). I don’t know how easy it would be to find dried Scotch bonnet, so I substitued cayenne pepper.
Serve with Jamaican rice and ‘peas‘ and a gluten-free Red Stripe (if only!)
Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
2 Tablespoon chopped scallions
2 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon allspice (ground)
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
In a small bowl, stir all ingredients together. Use to marinate (see below) or dry rub (and omit fresh scallions).
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
2 Tablespoons jerk seasoning
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
In a large bowl, whisk jerk seasoning with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add the chicken breasts, turning a few times to coat. Cover and let marinate for two hours (or longer). Preheat oven to 375°. Place the chicken breasts with the marinade in a glass baking dish and cook for 35 minutes or until just cooked through.
Cucumber Mango Relish
1 large mango, cut into half-inch cubes
2 cups diced, cucumber
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
dash of salt
1/3 cup cilantro
When a mango lies flat, it is resting on one of its ‘cheeks’ with the pit in the middle and the other cheek on top. Hold the mango vertically and cut the cheeks off either side of the pit. Slice lines 1/2-inch apart down the entire length of one cheek, making sure not to cut through the skin. Then turn the cheek and repeat so that you end up with a cross-hatch pattern. Put your fingers underneath the mango (skin side) and gently push upward, so that the mango is now inside-out. Slice the mango cubes off the skin. Repeat with the other mango cheek.
In a medium bowl, toss the mango cubes with the rest of the ingredients. Adjust seasonings where necessary. Top sliced chicken breasts with the relish and serve.
This recipe is also being submitted to the Gluten-free Homemaker’s Wednesday Recipe Carnival.