“Jerk is Jamaica to the bone, aromatic and smoky, sweet but insistently hot. All of its traditional ingredients grow in the island’s lush green interior: fresh ginger, thyme and scallions; Scotch bonnet peppers; and the sweet wood of the allspice tree, which burns to a fragrant smoke.” ~Julia Moskin
I am a bit addicted to cooking shows. They are my background noise if I am home alone, my guilty pleasure before I go to bed, and maybe a little bit of an obsession. Just a little. Alright, I watch a lot of cooking shows, it is probably a big obsession and not a “little bit.” I like all the cooking competition shows, like Top Chef and Chopped, and the half-hour shows with the chef’s, like Giada and Bobby Flay. I even sometimes watch Cupcake Wars, but I don’t like to admit that one to everyone. Anyway, I am a food show junkie.
One of my favorite spots to catch up on my food shows is the gym. I know, it is very counter-productive. I hop on a stationary bike or the treadmill, turn on Chopped, and have dinner planned and ready to eat before I even finish my workout. I am pretty sure I gain weight by exercising because I want to make EVERYTHING I see on the cooking shows. My last gym trip led to the idea of Jamaican Jerk Pheasant. I was watching Choppped, of course, and the contestant was working with chicken. He created a stove-top Jamaican Jerk. The judges said the flavors were amazing, they could “really taste the sweet and heat,” and they were impressed he developed so much taste out of the ingredients without marinating or slow cooking the meat. I had never had Jamaican Jerk Chicken before, but the judges persuaded me that I needed to. Their comments about slow cooking the meat really hit me. Pheasant can be a bit tough and while I love a cracker battered and fried piece of pheasant, I was interested in utilizing the pheasant in a recipe where slow cooking would help tenderize the legs. Jamaican Jerk sounded like the perfect recipe.
Traditional Jamaican jerk is grilled over fresh green wood, and in the Caribbean this is commonly from a pimento tree. The trees are portioned into chunks about the size of charcoal and heated under a large metal grill. These chunks are kept very hot throughout the process. A second layer of wood is added, this time in the form of logs. The meat is placed directly on the logs and sheet metal is laid over the top. Here the meat slow roasts for over two hours, the entire time absorbing the oils from the pimento wood and tenderizing.
Before cooking, the meat is marinated with a sweet and spicy mixture. The ingredients can vary, but traditional ones include allspice berries, thyme, scotch bonnet peppers, green onions, and fresh ginger. The final product results in a smoky, moist, somewhat sweet, somewhat spicy dish that is a unique dining experience. And pheasant makes it all the better!
As with most dishes requiring a marinade, you have to be an advance prepper for Jamaican Jerk Pheasant. The meat will need to sit and soak flavors for at least twelve, if not twenty four hours. I try to start marinating the meat the night before. So, in a large blender or food processor add cinnamon, thyme, green onions, soy sauce, brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic, pineapple juice, and a scotch bonnet pepper. If you can’t find a scotch bonnet pepper, you can use a habanero. If you don’t like that much heat, which not everyone likes to feel the burn, you can substitute a milder pepper such as a jalapeno. If you don’t want any heat, tell the peppers to get lost! I like the combination of the sweet and heat though, so I added the habanero. At this point, I should also add that the marinade is very hot! And by hot I mean make your eyes burn and your nose run hot. I am not always a smart person. I seldom remember to use gloves when working with peppers. I think I secretly like to test if I can handle the pain, but when, and it will if you aren’t careful, this stuff accidentally ends up in your eye because you didn’t use gloves and you then rubbed your eyes afterwards, you will wish you had used gloves. And probably contemplate a trip to the ER for an eye flushing. Seriously, it hurts. Be careful.
Pulse everything together and grab a large Ziploc freezer bag, you know, the ones that seal really tight. A trick I use is to suck the air out of the bag so all of the meat is touched by the marinade. Pat the pheasant legs dry and rub them with a slice of lemon. Sprinkle creole seasoning over each piece, give everybody a little massage, flip and repeat. Now, drop everyone in the Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over the top. Give the bag a good shake, make sure everything is coated good, and lay it in the fridge. I like to use the bag because I can usually push everything around so all the meat is sitting in the marinade, and it makes it easy to shake everything up every couple hours.
Okay, fast forward twenty hours and pull out the crock pot. Pour the pheasant legs and marinade into the pot and turn it to low. Let everything cook for at least six hours. And….yeah, that is really all there is at this point. Sit and wait.
Okay, fast forward six hours and preheat the broiler. Pull the legs from the crock pot and lay on a baking sheet. Make sure it is a rimmed baking sheet because this can get juicy and messy! Place the sheet on the middle rack under the broiler for three to five minutes. The pheasant should get slight browned and maybe even a little crunch on the outside.
Take the marinade from the crock pot and heat it up over the stove. Let it simmer for a bit and reduce down. Once you have reduced the sauce and broiled the pheasant, brush the sauce over the legs. You can also serve a little on the side for dipping. I like to serve Jamaican Jerk Pheasant with coconut rice and black beans. There is a great recipe for coconut rice at this blog: http://www.immaculatebites.com/caribbean-rice-and-beans/. It is very quick and simple and pairs great with Jamaican Jerk.