Jamaican Jerk Chicken & Plantain-Stuffed Dumplings
It’s back to the routine of school around here. I think this has been equated to what my fellow peers as “the end of summer,” but I sure wouldn’t like to think of it that way. The sun is still shining, I’m still wearing slippery lace tanks and shorts, and I’m still eating salted tomatoes with olive oil and crusty bread for dinner. Sounds like summer, don’t you think? I’m one of those people that tend to like classes and readings and writing essays (in general), so I don’t think I’ve ever thought summer dies when the school year ushers in, anyway.
Some things have changed, though. Like the food I’m eating—out go the luxuries of having access to my parent’s pantry and kitchen, and in come the mainly vegetarian, mainly cheap meals. In the case of this meal, I made it before I left for college when I still had the chance to use my parent’s coal grill in the backyard. My motivation for this meal was plain and simple: I watched an episode of Tyler’s Ultimate on the Food Network. Yes, I know how we, as a part of the food-blog community, mainly feel about the food network, and I’ve talked about it before on here. But I have always, and probably will always, admire and love watching Tyler Florence cook. I think you can tell the quality of some recipes and instructions by the way someone cooks (or even talks about food and cooking). Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.
Either way, when I saw Tyler Florence shallow pan-frying tender plantain-filled biscuits while seemingly throwing ingredient upon random ingredient into the food processor to make a jerk marinade, I immediately decided I had to make the meal. And when the pantry is well-stocked enough where almost every ingredient is already on hand, make it I did.
The whole meal turned out great, minus a couple errors of execution on my part. The marinade, as expected, was easy to put together: throw long list of ingredients into food processor, blend, pour onto chicken. In terms of cooking it, I think Waylon and I had a too-hot grill, which when combined with a sugar-filled marinade, resulted in some pretty heavy-duty charring on the chicken. Nonetheless, the chicken was delicious, charred bits and all. The flavor is hard to describe, if you’ve never had it before. But some key notes that seemed to shine through were a sweet-tangy-spicy combination due to the allspice, ginger, garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, and brown sugar. When I eat it, I like to imagine that these flavors from Jamaica, as the intersecting point between the spice trades a few centuries earlier, is the result of hundreds of years of voyages, wars, and discoveries. All to come together on my plate in the end! Who would have thought.
The dumplings were, to be short, awesome. Now those might actually be something I’ll be making again around here, even without the luxuries of my parent’s kitchen. You make a biscuit-like dough by cutting butter into flour, and then adding milk a little bit at a time. After sectioning them out into 12 pieces, a little slice of plantain gets stuffed in the middle of each one. When these fry in a shallow layer of oil, the dough puffs out a bit, the bottom and top get golden and crispy, and the whole thing ends up being one big, salted and moist biscuit, with the slightly sweet and creamy bit of plantain in the middle. Once again, this one’s a little hard to imagine, too. Then again, I’m certainly no Tyler Florence in terms of being able to talk about food in such a way that convinces you, makes you, commit to making it. But even if my descriptions or photos didn’t do this meal justice, go out on a limb here and try to imagine a smoky, spicy, sweet chicken paired with a flaky-creamy pan-fried dumpling. It’s hard to beat, especially when it’s still summer.
If scotch bonnets aren’t available, habanero chiles can be substituted. As always, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the chiles. Especially before touching your eyes! Yikes!
1 4-pound chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 a medium onion, roughly chopped
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
5 scallions (white and green parts only), sliced
2 limes, juiced
1-2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 scotch bonnet pepper, halved
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Pierce the chicken pieces all over with the tip of a small knife. Transfer chicken to a large bowl. To make the jerk marinade, process the rest of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken, and “massage” into the chicken to ensure all pieces are covered with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.
Let chicken sit at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking. Build a medium-low fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium. Place the chicken pieces on the grill, skin side up. Cook covered, turning often–the sugars in the marinade cause the chicken skin to caramelize and burn faster than normal. Grill until skin is crisp and lightly charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest parts of chicken registers 160 degrees F for the breasts, or 165 degrees F for the thighs, 25-35 minutes. Transfer to a platter and tent loosely with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Makes 12 large dumplings
The trick with these is getting the middle of the dumpling to lose most of its doughiness while keeping the top and bottom golden brown. Keep the heat lower (but still high enough so that the dough fries in the oil, instead of soaking it up), and make sure to keep a steady layer of oil in the bottom of the pan between batches.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup (preferably whole) milk
1 ripe plantain, peeled and cut into 12 coins
vegetable oil, for frying
Pulse the flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor to combine. Toss in the cold butter pieces and continue to pulse until only pea-sized pieces of the butter remain, and the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Add milk, a little bit at a time, just until it is completely worked into the dough. If the dough still looks a little dry, add additional tablespoons of milk, one at a time, until the dough forms together and starts to pull away from the sides. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and gently press the dough together to make a cohesive ball. Divide the dough into 12 evenly-sized pieces, and gently roll each piece into even balls. Push a slice of plantain into the middle of each ball and pinch the dough around the plantain so it is completely covered by the dough. Gently press each ball flat into a little cake, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Set a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. There should be at least a good 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. While the oil is heating up, prick the dumplings all over with a fork. Working in batches, pan-fry the dumplings for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until the dumplings are golden and slightly puffy. Replenish the oil as needed between batches to make sure there is a good layer before each frying.
(Also, be careful–it’s an important balance between having a heat that will fry the dumplings, but that won’t burn the sides before the middles have lost their doughiness and have cooked all the way through. It might be helpful to have a tester dumpling.) Once cooked and golden, remove from heat and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.