What to Eat when it’s Hot Outside

Maybe it was all the Bob Marley I listened to while writing this post, but yesterday, thanks in part to near 100F temperatures outside, I was craving jerk chicken. Oh, I’ve had it before (although jerk pork is actually my favorite), but I’ve never attempted to make it before. The most authentic jerk I’ve eaten was at a small, popular place called The Pork Pit in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 

(Yes, you may not know this about me, but in college I spent some time volunteering at an elementary school in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.)

It may at first seem counterintuitive to eat spicy foods on a blazing hot day, but actually, if you think about it, many cultures around the world that reside in tropical temperature zones are known for their foods’ spiciness: the Caribbean, India, Morocco, Thailand, etc. Whether that’s historically because these cultures used spices heavily to preserve foods in hot climates (read: disguise the flavor of rotting food pre-refrigeration?), or because spicy foods make you sweat and therefore cool you down, I don’t know for sure.

But, paired with a refreshing cucumber-mint coleslaw, jerk chicken was a brilliant choice to fill our bellies as we hid inside to avoid the heat, mosquitoes, and gnats. If you are traditionally wary of spicy foods and always ask for “mild” spice levels at ethnic restaurants, you should know that the spice in jerk is less of a hot pepper sort of spice, and more of a warming heat, thanks to the nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon that it contains. Don’t get me wrong: by the end of the meal our noses were running just a little, but Alex, not normally a spicy food enthusiast, could handle the heat, if you will allow me that pun.

I’d have to do a little more research to determine the authenticity of this recipe, but for our purposes it was pretty good.

Jerk Chicken (adapted from Food&Wine’s recipe here)
Yum Factor: Alex – 7.5, Jessalyn – 9 

1 teaspoon each:
– pepper
– allspice
– Chinese five spice

1/2 teaspoon each:
– salt
– nutmeg
– oregano
– red pepper flakes

– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Combine spices in a bowl.

– 1/2 large spring onion, diced
– 1 garlic clove, minced
2. Add onion and garlic, stirring to coat with spices. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or food processor to grind into a paste.

– 1/4 cup soy sauce (I used gluten-free, reduced sodium Tamari)
– 1 teaspoon canola oil
3. Slowly whisk into spiced paste.

– 1 pound chicken meat (I used thighs)
4. Pour meat and marinade into large plastic bag. Seal the bag and gently but vigorously massage marinade into chicken so each piece is coated.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (ordinarily I might let it sit all day, but 30 minutes was just fine, especially when you don’t think to start dinner prep when you’re groggy at 6 in the morning…)

5. Grill over high heat for about 5 minutes per side.

Cucumber-Mint Coleslaw
Yum Factor: Alex – 5, Jessalyn – 6 (Alex says it was too minty, I say it was a perfect accompaniment to jerk chicken, but I wouldn’t necessarily eat it on its own)

– 1/2 cucumber, seeded and finely diced
– handful of chives, chopped
– 5 mint leaves, chopped (I used about 10, which Alex found to be too much)
– generous 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1. Combine for dressing.

– 1 cup Napa cabbage, sliced thinly
– 1 carrot, shredded 
2. Toss cabbage and carrot with dressing so that everything is coated. 

So there you have it. The photo doesn’t show it, but I also served it with some brown rice. I chose to grill it because we were in a hurry, but it occurred to me that using some bone-in breasts or thighs with this seasoning might be a delicious thing to cook in our smoker – low and slow in the more traditional style of cooking? I will continue to experiment as my neophyte Patois accent and the smattering of vocabulary I picked up comes through…yes mon.

In the meantime, watch this awesome video of a Jamaican cooking show in which John Bull makes jerk chicken.

It’s too hot to prolong this conversation much longer, but what do you like to eat when it’s hot outside? Something hot and spicy? Something cold and refreshing? Raw foods or cooked foods? Do tell!

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