This Flavor-Packed Jerk Roast Chicken > Every Other Roast Chicken

Bright, punchy flavor with no fuss.

February 26, 2019

We've partnered with The Spice Hunter to bring you this week's Big Little Recipe, which always has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Here, we’re making Jamaican jerk roast chicken with fried plantains.

When I think about jerk chicken, I think about my Jamaican mom's version. She’s a fiery and outspoken woman and is full of pride and spice, just like her cooking. Every Sunday when I was growing up—like clockwork—she roasted a whole chicken, made a pot of rice and peas, and fried plantains for dinner. She’d season the bird in the morning, clean the house, run a few errands, and come back in the afternoon to finish up the cooking.

These days, the roast chicken is my responsibility. And while I often make my mom's exact menu, I've developed a few tricks that make the dish my own (and make it faster and easier, but just as juicy and flavorful, in the process). My first discovery: If I use a heavier amount of jerk seasoning plus lime juice, I only have to marinate the bird for one hour. My second: stuffing the chicken cavity with the spent limes from the marinade. The oils from the peel and remaining flesh create a citrusy steam, which keeps the chicken moist and infuses it with extra flavor.

Jerk chicken or “jerked” foods (chicken, pork, beef, fish) are traditionally seasoned with jerk paste and smoked under burning pimento wood or hot coals. The secret to their kicky flavor is the inclusion of pimento seeds (aka allspice)—an all-encompassing berry with a flavor that evokes black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves all at once—and Scotch bonnet peppers, the hot pepper known for its blazing heat and fruity sweetness. (Scotch bonnets are sometimes labeled “red pepper” in spices and marinades.)

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Top Comment:
“I went to Port Antonio this winter break and had some jerk at Boston Beach - it was so great! Nothing will beat that but I love this at home (in much colder weather) recipe. Thanks :) ”
— Lizzie G.

Both ingredients are indigenous to Jamaica, and there is no doubt in my mind that if you walk into any Jamaican kitchen, you will find a zip-top baggy with pimento seeds rolling around, and a half-cut pepper hanging out in the refrigerator. I'd bet my life on it.

Photo by Rocky Luten

To turn pimento seeds and Scotch bonnets into jerk paste, there’s a whole cast of supporting characters that come into play, including scallion, garlic, onion, ginger, thyme, and nutmeg. The paste can be used fresh but I use dried in a spice blend for maximum convenience and flavor.

Here’s how it goes down on Sundays: First, I form a quick paste by combining the jerk spice blend with fresh lime juice and olive oil. Next, I rub this paste all over the chicken. And I mean rub it everywhere—over the skin, under the skin, and inside the cavity. The olive oil helps the chicken brown as it bakes and the lime juice keeps all the flavors bright. I let that sit for an hour and then into the oven it goes.

The fried plantains to go with are optional—but not really. Just slice one up and fry in olive oil for two to three minutes until each side is golden. It’s the ideal accompaniment to the jerk chicken because it balances the heat with fruity, caramelized sweetness. Just make sure that the plantain is ripe. (And if you can’t find a ripe one, an easy way to speed things up is to keep it in a paper bag for a day or two.)

Maybe it’s because it’s only five ingredients or maybe it’s because it brings back so many happy memories, but this recipe is one of my absolute favorites lately. I’m keeping my mom’s Sunday tradition alive, but now I make it for my brother, his wife, and their newborn baby Noah. I get all the great flavor of jerk chicken without laboring over a grill or fussing around in the kitchen all day. Life is good. Especially when it’s spiced with jerk.

What's your favorite roast chicken seasoning? Tell us in the comments below!

With help from our partner, The Spice Hunter, you can take any meal from dull to delicious with just a sprinkle or pinch. Here, just five (yes, just five!) ingredients, plus a few dashes of The Spice Hunter's Jamaican Jerk Blend, work together to create a spicy, ultra-flavorful jerk roast chicken dinner in a cinch.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lizzie Greene
    Lizzie Greene
  • Chris
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    Briana Riddock
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    Taiana coke
Freelance Food Writer


Lizzie G. February 27, 2019
I went to Port Antonio this winter break and had some jerk at Boston Beach - it was so great! Nothing will beat that but I love this at home (in much colder weather) recipe. Thanks :)
Chris February 26, 2019
damn...now i gotta make some jerk. while i don't have any roots in the islands (that i know of, you know how it is), i've perfected my jerk skills to the point that i've actually catered for jamaicans (and my rice & peas too, i might add). you're absolutely right in that dry seasoning is the best move for quick seasoning. we call it "cheater's jerk" but it's effective. when i make a batch of jerk rub, i usually have enough to give away a few jars of it, and i have a couple in my fridge right now. i'm gonna try your idea of putting limes in the cavity, i usually just put an onion in there. last note, have you done a bird spatchcocked on a sheet pan? thinking about trying that out.
Author Comment
Briana R. February 26, 2019
Chris! Yes, I think a spatchcocked jerk chicken on a sheet pan is a brilliant idea! You can do a mix of the limes and onions in the cavity for a citrusy-oniony mix.
Taiana C. February 27, 2019
What is your recipe jerk seasoning