Jerk Chicken and Festival

Festival – never heard of ’em. Except I obviously have, since I’m blogging about them, but I’ve only *just* heard of them and I thought maybe a lot of other people hadn’t, and that might make a good blog post. I did start it out with a tiny fib, for dramatic effect, which I immediately ruined by confessing so it shouldn’t even really count…

Festival are little cigar-shaped dumplings from Jamaica, made with flour and cornmeal, and they traditionally go with jerk chicken or fish. They are so easy to make, and use ingredients you might already have in the cupboard, especially if you’re like me and have bought a big sack of cornmeal because it was a good price… You can find the recipe for festival here – it took me half a cup of water to bring the dough together, and when you’re frying them make sure not to crank the heat too much and to keep an eye on the colour of them. The dumplings are very crispy on the outside and dense and chewy inside, if you over cook them they’ll be too crunchy.

I made jerk chicken and vegetables to go with the festival. I based my jerk chicken recipe on this one but made a couple of changes – here’s my method:

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • 2 Scotch bonnet chilis
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme or 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed (or other bland) oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons treacle
  • six chicken thighs
  • juice of one lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cinnamon

Colourful Sweet Bite Peppers

A word on Scotch Bonnet chilis first of all: they are hot. They will burn you if you’re not a bit careful. Remember this and take even more precautions than usual not to touch your eyes (or other sensitive areas, you now the ones I mean) after you’ve been handling them. Instead of wearing gloves, I like to give my hands a thorough coating of oil before I slice hot chilis like these. It’s especially important to cover over any minor cuts you might have, and to get in among your cuticles and maybe even under your nails, depending how fastidious you’re being. The oil creates a barrier between your skin and the hot stuff, and you can wash it right off when you’re done. Be careful when using a knife though, obviously your hands will be a little more slippy than normal. The actual flavour of Scotch Bonnets is hot, yes, but also very fruity and long-lasting, completely different to your standard long green or red chili pepper. I used to small peppers in this recipe, but next time I’d use bigger ones, they weren’t as mouth-on-fire, I-can’t-taste-any-food-for-three-days hot as I was worried they’d be.

First I put all the ingredients up to the chicken in my blender. Then, my blender broke. Then I ran out to the local Argos (other shops are available, but Argos did save dinner that night) to buy a new stick blender, ten minutes before they closed. Then I came back, scraped the half-blended mixture into a tall jug and finished the job. It didn’t look like much except a beaker full of mud (at best), but the smell was wonderful, even if it did singe a few nose hairs.

My now-deceased blender

The finished paste

Once the blender emergency was over, I poured the lime juice over the chicken thighs, mixed well to coat, then poured over two thirds of the jerk sauce and marinaded for an hour. As with any marinading, the longer the better – overnight would have been ideal, but I was too excited about trying it to wait. The rest of the jerk sauce I kept aside for serving; I thought the festival would benefit from some sauce to dip them in. Once you’ve had marinade over raw meat, you can’t serve it up without cooking it through first, so I thought it’d be easier to keep a little.

I cooked the chicken thighs in my griddle pan, which I rubbed with rapeseed oil and put over a high heat. I griddled the chicken for about fifteen minutes each side – make sure to give it a prod before you eat it, if the juices coming out are pink it needs a bit longer to cook. I wanted to get the classic jerk chicken look, with blackened parts on the meat, so there was quite a lot of smoke – be prepared!

After the chicken had cooked for twenty five minutes, I pushed it to the front of the pan and put in some sliced green pepper and orange sweet bite peppers, diced pineapple and a small corn cob to take on the flavour of the meat and spices. Frozen corn cobs are one of the vegetables I usually have in the freezer; they’re not as good as fresh, but good enough when it’s winter and you want some sunshine. I boiled the corn for seven minutes before finishing it off in the pan.

While the chicken was marinading, I prepared the festival – it took so little time to do, I could easily have waited until the chicken was cooking before I did. They take eight minutes to fry, so I put them on for the last eight minutes of the chicken’s cooking time and everything was ready to be served all at once. I put the fried dumplings on to a layer of absorbent kitchen paper to drain and slightly cool off while I put everything else on the plate, then added them and sat down to eat.

Festival before cooking

While I don’t think festival are the prettiest things I’ve ever made, they were a good accompaniment to the jerk chicken, and also satisfied my need to try new things. When I was reading a bit more about them I learned that a variation is to add corned beef or cheese to them before frying – this sounds like it could be an excellent snack on its own.


About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

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