This past Saturday I picked up a whole pasture-raised chicken from Riverdog’s stand at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. When I say the whole chicken, I mean it literally. It came with it’s head and feet still attached. I broke it down into 10-pieces (the breast was quartered) for this recipe, while my seven-year old son stood beside me with absolute fascination. It was his first time seeing a whole chicken (dead, of course; he’s seen a live chicken before). And, it was my first time breaking down a whole chicken like that, i.e., I had to chop off its neck and feet. Some people might be grossed out by working with a whole chicken like this. I admit that initially part of me was, too. But as I get deeper into food justice I’m realizing that seeing the whole animal, and using the whole animal (you should know that the head, feet, neck, and back make for an excellent and healthy chicken stock), is a way of honoring its life and the gift of its nourishment to our bodies.
We are often so removed from the animal since most of the time it has been packaged up all nice and neat and doesn’t look anything like the cow, or chicken it once was. However, I think this desensitization leads consumers to not think about really important stuff, like, “how did that animal live before it got into my pan?” These are important questions to ask oneself since how an animal lived before you buy it, cook it, and eat it has a direct connection to the land and environment, e.g., was it raised in a sustainable manner?; to workers rights, e.g., were the farmers or workers that raised and processed the animal paid a fair wage and are they treated with dignity?; to the welfare of the animal itself, e.g., was the animal treated humanely, i.e., did it have access to sun, fresh air, and food that is a part of its natural diet, etc.?
Anyway, this was a great experience for my son. He kept putting his head real close to the chicken’s head and feet, checking out the details of its body, and said “poor chicken” about 5 times. I asked him, since he felt bad for the chicken, if he would prefer not to eat them anymore. However, by the way that he threw down on his jerk chicken, the close encounter and his sympathy for the “poor chicken” wasn’t enough to turn him vegetarian.
If you’re a fan of spicy foods, and the warm, sweet, and smoky spices that go into jerk chicken, you will absolutely love this dish. It has an addictive quality. Its kind of like when you’re eating chips and salsa, and the salsa is spicy but you gotta keep eating more or else your mouth will burn if you stop. It’s a pleasant burn though, and you can always use less habanero pepper, or none at all if you prefer a milder touch.
Make sure you make the pineapple mint salad that goes with it. The salad and chicken are a match made in heaven. The pineapple both cools the mouth and preps the pallet for the next bite.
Roast Jerk Chicken and Pineapple Mint Salad
Adapted, barely, from A Bird in the Oven and Then Some
Ingredients for Roast Jerk Chicken
1/2 cup chopped white onion
5 scallions, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger
1 scotch bonnet or habanero chile, stemmed (I used a habanero)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
Fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
14 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rack
1 (4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (about one lime), plus lime wedges for serving
Ingredients for Pineapple Mint Salad
1 (3-pound) pineapple, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
*Please don’t use canned pineapple for this, it just won’t be the same nor taste nearly as good.
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp flaky coarse sea salt (I used kosher salt)
20 to 30 fresh mint leaves chopped or torn into smaller pieces (about 2 to 3 springs)
2 scallions, thinly sliced on a long diagonal
Directions for Roast Jerk Chicken and Pineapple Mint Salad
1. In a food processor, puree the onion, scallions, garlic, ginger, chile, soy sauce, 1 1/2 tsp of salt, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the oil.
2. Transfer the marinade to a 1-gallon sealable plastic bag. Ad the chicken pieces. Seal the bag, pressing out the excess air. Turn the bag over several times to distribute the marinade, then put into a bowl and chill, turning occasionally, for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
3. heat the oven to 450′F with the rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking pan with foil and add an oiled wire rack. Reserving the marinade, arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in a single layer on the rack. Drizzle with lime juice and season lightly with salt. Spoon the marinade over the chicken pieces and roast until crisped on the edges and cooked through, anywhere between 40 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Meanwhile, make the salad. In a bowl, combine the pineapple, oil, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Then add the mint and scallion and toss again; adjust the oil and seasoning if necessary. Serve with the chicken.