My first bite of jerk chicken, fresh from two hours of mingling with smoke, was everything I wanted it to be. The rub of allspice berries and black peppercorns mixed with fresh ginger and thyme and created this incredible aroma --one that I couldn't help but adore. I was completely happy and content until quickly, and without much warning, the spice hit. A double dose of habanero cut through all of that complexity, ringing my lips with intense heat that unleashed the first of many small tears to drip down my face. I took a drink of wine, which only seemed to ignite the pain even more. I reached for a glass milk to squelch what I could, but it only delayed the onslaught. Against what should have been better judgment, I dug back in for another bite.
I had been interested in jerk chicken ever since watching Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations eat some out on the nighttime streets of Jamaica. These roadside stands cooked them in enormous old oil-drums that had been retrofitted into smokers. The chickens were rubbed with a jerk spice mixture of allspice berries and scotch bonnets (a relative of the habanero), among many other things, that turned the flesh a deep, dark brown, just one shade away from black. But when Boudain bite in, the flesh shone white and juicy. I wanted some.
For help I used this New York Times article that explored the jerk chicken available around Brooklyn. It was then that I found out what was in the spice rub. The predominant ingredient was allspice, something I don't really use that much. But it seemed to be absolutely crucial to the dish. In fact, on the island of Jamaica they use the wood from the allspice tree to cook the meat. Something, unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to use. Oh well. I used some nice and mild apple wood. The rub also included black peppercorns, thyme, ginger, garlic, scallion, and brown sugar. I could smell it already.
I also found this recipe from eGullet, and I loved how they traded the dried and ground spices for fresh ones. They toasted whole allspice berries with black peppercorns and then ground them fresh. What it honestly reminded me of was the care and patience that goes into a good barbecue rub.
But its insane heat sets it apart. Mixed in with all of these spices were two habaneros. The spice of these is unlike that of, say, a whole bunch of blunt jalapenos. Those are nothing. One of these little orange guys can completely change the feeling of a dish, and two, well, is just crazy. I thought about adding that third one, but I might not have lived through the experience had I gone through with it. Surely, this is not a dish for those who don't really like spice, or who think jalapenos to be a tad risqué. I shirk such thoughts. Give me more.