Latin Twist: Jamaican Jerk Chicken (or Holiday Fiesta Food, Part 1!)


Jamaican Jerk Chicken Photo by Ellie Miller

A few years ago, I heard an interview on NPR with Nigella Lawson that changed my life. What she said is that thanks to her cooking class participants she had improved many of her recipes. This idea gave me one of those head-slapping moments. After all, though I have always said that the greatest part of being a teacher, be it of English, writing, or cooking, is learning from the students, I had never translated that into the realm of cooking!  So, mis queridos amigos, I bring to you two things today. One, the idea that recipes are always changing. And two, my continually-evolving recipe for Jamaican jerk chicken!

Originally published in Calypso Coolers in 2007,  this recipe usually surfaces this time of year. Why? It’s a great holiday—hugely adaptable—appetizer (or main dish). It’s easy to prep ahead of time, and we know that’s a big, big plus. And, finally, it’s fabulously delicious!

Now, my friends, what I became immediately enamored with the first time I tried Jamaican jerk chicken was the wealth of flavors.  The combination of spices has such depth—not unlike a Mexican mole sauce. Jerk recipes vary, but the three main ingredients are chile pepper, allspice, and thyme. If you you’re a fan of fire, definitely add the habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper, but here I’ve made that extra heat optional. You can make these ahead of time, and reheat them, covered in a 400°F oven for about 7 minutes, before your guests arrive. Be sure to keep extra sauce on hand for dipping!

¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!


Latin Twist: Jamaican Jerk Chicken (or Holiday Fiesta Food, Part 1!)

Yield: About 20 bite size pieces

You can easily turn up the heat for your hot-spice lovers! Otherwise, keep the recipe as is. You'll enjoy not only the beautiful combination of flavors, but also the rich aroma that radiates as you cook your Jamaican jerk chicken!


  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 6 leaves sage, washed and minced
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded and finely diced, or 1/2 teaspoon scotch bonnet hot sauce (found in West Indian markets or international sections of large supermarkets), or jalapeño pepper, optional
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped
  • 2 boneless pieces of chicken—could be thighs or breasts (6 to 8 ounces), skin removed, cut into uniform 1/4 to 1/2-inch size chunks, or the size you wish to serve
  • Parsley for garnish


  1. First make the sauce: In a large bowl, combine the thyme, sage, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, peppers, salt, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, orange and lime juice.
  2. Add the olive oil.
  3. Pour into the spices, and add the garlic, onions, and hot pepper if desired.
  4. Take out half the sauce, and put it aside to heat later as a dipping sauce.
  5. Prepare the chicken: With a sharp knife, cut chicken thighs or breasts into about 20 bite-size pieces, first by cutting it in half horizontally, and then cutting each half into chunks.
  6. Place pieces in a shallow dish, and pour the jerk sauce over them.
  7. Cover the chicken and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight (the longer you can marinate the chicken, the more the flavor will penetrate the meat).
  8. To cook the chicken, in a medium size sauté pan, sear the chunks for about 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through. (You could also place them on an oiled baking sheet and cook in a preheated 400º F. oven for 8 to 10 minutes.)
  9. In the meantime, pour the sauce you set aside into a medium-size saucepan and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat lower, and simmer for about 15 minutes. If it needs more liquid (though you don’t want it to be too runny), add fresh orange juice.
  10. Let cool slightly, and transfer to dipping bowls.
  11. To serve, pierce chicken chunks with bamboo or your favorite toothpicks, set on a platter, sprinkle with parsley, and add a bowl of the extra jerk sauce for dipping.


About Author

Maybe it was the dinner parties my mom always threw—or the hours I spent prepping and cooking alongside her (and then on my own!). Or maybe it was array of fabulous dishes that my family sampled in New York City’s richly diverse restaurants, but I’ve loved creating, savoring, and sharing food for as long as I can remember. Living in Spain, and later in Peru, also greatly influenced my life. These years abroad taught me Spanish—and about living in different countries--but also introduced me to teaching English as a second language, which I’ve done—mostly in the US-- for the past 20-plus (yikes!) years. I’ve authored two cocktail/tapas books, Mambo Mixers and Calypso Coolers, coauthored more than 15 others (mostly food related!), and raised two children. Now I'm chef and owner of my own restaurant, Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, New York. My message is the same, whether I'm teaching, writing, running the restaurant or being a regular guest on the Spanish-language network Telemundo (on the morning show, Buenos Días Nueva York!). My belief in food—and the power of food—is far reaching, and is married with another one: the power of stories. I’m sure that if we could all sit down and have meals together, sharing both tastes and tales, we’d have peace on earth. Enjoy!

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