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Exotic Africa: Jerk Chicken

Carrying on with our theme of exotic African dishes that I have come across in my travels and interactions in Africa, this week we focus on one of my favourite recipes, Jerk Chicken. This is a dish that is very common in West Africa and in the Carribean.
By Edith

When I first tasted Jerk Chicken, I thought the name came from the reflex jerk that a non-native eater experiences when they taste Jerk Chicken for the first time. It is a hot and spicy dish, but very full of flavour. You can, however, reduce the hotness if you are going to enjoy it with children.

Jerk Chicken simply means barbequed chicken or in our part of the world, braai chicken. The main ingredient in this dish is the Jamaican all-spice. I looked for Jamaican all-spice in most spice shops locally, but I couldn’t find any, so I resorted to substituting it with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. If anyone knows where I can find Jamaican all-spice in Zimbabwe, please let me know so I can make the original recipe without having to compromise.

This recipe also calls for bonnet peppers, which are really hot so if you don’t like your food very hot, you may want to use chilli peppers but you won’t really enjoy the hotness of the recipe.

For the original recipe, you’ll have to stop yourself removing the chicken too early. To the unaccustomed eye, Jerk Chicken is pretty much burnt chicken as it is cooked until it’s a charred. If this isn’t your fancy, you can always remove it from the fire before it is charred. To also bring out the very best flavours, marinate the chicken overnight, you’ll definitely taste the difference. Let’s see how we can get started with our Jerk Chicken.

Jerk Chicken


l1,5kg chicken pieces

l4 fresh shallots, minced

l8 cloves garlic, minced

l3 bonnet peppers, chopped

l3 tablespoons brown sugar

l4 teaspoons Jamaican all-spice (you can substitute for 2 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teasspoon cloves and pinch nutmeg)

l2 teaspoons ground ginger

l2 tablespoons thyme

l4 teaspoons salt, to taste

l3 teaspoons black pepper, to taste

l½ cup soy sauce

l¼ cup olive or vegetable oil

l1 whole lime, juiced

lDash of rum (optional)


Using a blender, blend the shallots, peppers, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, oil, all-spice and ginger. Puree for about 15 seconds. Add a splash of rum if desired.

In a bowl, arrange the chicken pieces and make some slits in the flesh to allow the marinade to seep in. Coat the chicken with the marinade, making sure it is fully-coated. Cover the bowl with cling-wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Put on the fire and make sure the coals are red with little direct flame. Arrange the chicken on the barbeque (braai stand) and grill.

Reserve some of the marinade for basting onto the chicken, this makes for juicier chicken. Grill until the chicken is well-done and is no longer pink in the centre. Serve with Jollof rice or grilled vegetables.

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