Here’s a pie where all the fiery, spicy glory of jerk chicken is captured beneath a rough-puff pastry crust. It’s a taste of summer all wrapped up for winter with a sauce made from coconut cream, sweet potato, leeks, onions, celery, and carrots.
In its Jamaican homeland, making jerk chicken brings together a Caribbean mix of marinating seasonings with a particular way of cooking. It’s a culinary marriage that goes back a few hundred years and is still going strong today.
So, what’s the secret behind the long-lived popularity of jerk chicken? Well, as with so many great dishes that have stood the taste of time, it’s all surprisingly simple.
To be truly Jamaican, it works like this. Once the pieces of skin-on, bone-in chicken are liberally coated with their intensely spiced and potently fiery marinade, they’re slowly char-grilled over a glowing open fire made from aromatic pimento wood. Turned a few times and basted with the marinade as they cook, the pieces darken to a smoky crispness on the outside which locks in the meat’s tender succulence.
This slow, over-the-embers grilling is only one-half of jerk chicken’s secret. The other half is the blend of ingredients known as jerk seasoning or Caribbean spice. And there are two absolutely essential elements in that mix.
Jerk seasoning’s necessities
First, there are the must-have, fiercely hot, fresh chili peppers. In jerk seasoning, these are typically scotch bonnet chilies that line up right alongside habanero peppers in the heat rankings. Both these extra-hot peppers sit at the top of what’s generally considered to be the upper limit of enjoyable pepper heat. Go beyond that boundary, and you’re into a demonic realm where the heat’s so intense that it obliterates everything else.
The second essential is a round, dried, reddish-brown berry that’s about twice the size of a peppercorn. This is allspice, with a taste that’s often described as being a warming, aromatic mix of cloves, cinnamon, juniper, nutmeg, and black pepper. Yep, all those spicy savors are packed into one berry.
Back in the early 1600s, this striking variety of such oh-so-exotic flavors prompted the presumably astonished English to call it allspice. It goes under other names, and you’ll often see the berries referred to as pimenton, pimiento, or Jamaican pepper, but it seems to me that calling it allspice sums it up rather neatly.
Although you can buy allspice already ground, it really is far better to seek out the whole berries and grind them yourself so that you get the full impact of their vibrant, varied spiciness.
Now, high-heat peppers and multi-flavored allspice might get top billing in jerk seasoning, but they’re supported by garlic, onion, ginger, thyme, dark brown sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce. These add an earthy, sweet, sour, and salty edge to the fire-and-spice of the seasoning’s headline stars.
Bending the traditional fire rules to create our jerk chicken pie
Rather than being cooked over the coals, our jerk-marinated chicken pieces get a fairly hot, oven roasting with a little olive oil before they’re prepped for the pie’s filling.
As the roasting pieces release some of their fat, it mingles with the jerk seasoning and olive oil, giving you a high-flavor basting sauce that’s just perfect for crisping and darkening the chicken’s skin.
Infused with all the spicy heat of the jerk seasoning, that char-roasted skin is going to be finely chopped once you’ve stripped it off the chicken and pulled the tender meat from the bones. And then all the fabulously flavored skin is heading to your pie’s filling.
The wonderfully hot, spicy, and creamy filling
This gets its lovely velvety texture from a simple sauce of softened onion, leeks, and celery mixed with coconut cream. Chunky pieces of carrot and sweet potato add body to that lovely pale green mix, along with their own cheerfully bright splash of color.
As for the meat from the chicken pieces, that stays in tender, bite-sized pieces that add to the pie’s overall appeal of being substantially wholesome. And that satisfying, homely appeal is crowned by a generous, golden crust of buttery, rough puff pastry.
The crowning crust
Some call it rough puff pastry, and some call it flaky pastry. It’s certainly rich and buttery but is denser and more robust than a meltingly light and airy puff pastry.
Made with flour, butter, salt, water, and a dash of vinegar, the crust does puff up a little as it cooks, forming slightly flaky layers that are similar to what you’d expect in a true puff pastry but not so obviously pronounced.
And once it’s baked, the soft crunch of its nicely firm structure and its delicately savory flavors make this crust a marvelous companion for a filling that’s bursting with sensational contrasts of tastes and textures.
Choosing the right chicken
Free-range, bone-in, and skin-on whole legs are the way to go for this pie.
The bone and skin both add a lot of natural flavor to the chicken’s meat. But the skin is important for other reasons. It’s filled with all the glorious, marinating flavors of the jerk seasoning. And when the fat from the skin mixes with that seasoning it produces a wonderful sauce for basting the chicken as it roasts.
Jerk Chicken Pot Pie
- 1 nine-inch pie dish that’s about 2 inches deep I used a ceramic dish because that’s the only type I have in that size, but a metal or glass dish will do just as well.
For the rough puff / flaky pastry
- 10 ounces all-purpose flour sometimes called white bread flour. (Plus a heaped tablespoon of flour for dusting a rolling pin and the surface you’ll be rolling the dough on.)
- 10 ounces salted butter whole-fat and straight from the refrigerator so it’s very cold and hard. Cut into 1/3-inch cubes
- ½ cup ice-cold water
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar mixed into the ice-cold water
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
For the jerk chicken pie’s filling
- 2 pounds whole free-range chicken legs bone-in and skin on. (The four whole legs I used gave me a total weight of almost exactly 2 pounds.)
- 1 yellow onion peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
- 6 ounces carrots peeled and chopped into ½-inch square-ish dice
- 6 ounces leeks topped and tailed, and sliced into 1/8-inch disks
- 6 ounces celery stalks topped and tailed, and cut into 1/8-inch, crescent-like slices
- 8 ounces sweet potatoes skin-on, scrubbed clean, and cut into bite-size chunks
- 1 can coconut cream 14-ounce can
- 4 tablespoons olive oil separated – half for roasting the chicken, half for frying the vegetables
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the jerk seasoning – as a marinade and as a basting sauce for the chicken legs
- 4 scotch bonnet peppers or 4 fresh habaneros. Now, jerk seasoning is supposed to be seriously fiery but, by all means, use less of these peppers, or swap them for something a little less fiery, Thai bird’s eye chilis are also good choices
- 1 yellow onion peeled and quartered
- 8 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 heaped tablespoon allspice berries coarsely ground in a pestle and mortar
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg freshly grated
- 1 heaped tablespoon fresh ginger root grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 heaped tablespoon dark brown sugar I used Muscovado, but Demerara will be just fine
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Making the jerk seasoning, and marinating the chicken
- The jerk seasoning is really easy. Just add all the ingredients to your food processor and blitz until you have a fairly smooth paste. Done.
- Add the chicken legs to a mixing bowl and pour over the jerk seasoning. Use your fingers to make sure the legs get a thorough coating of the seasoning.
- Set the bowl aside so that the chicken can marinade for about 1 ½ hours while you make the rest of your pie’s filling and its pastry.
Making the rough puff pastry crust
- Stir the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl that’s easily big enough to hold all the pastry’s ingredients.
- Use your fingers to mix and squeeze the very cold cubes of butter into the salted flour. The really important thing here is to quickly create a coarse, crumbly mix that looks a bit like a bowl of misshapen, entirely flour-coated garden peas.
- What you’re not aiming to do is to combine the butter and flour into a smooth dough. What you are looking for is to quickly produce a rough looking mass of pea-sized lumps of still-cold butter that are completely covered in flour.
- And the reason this fairly gentle mix-and-squeeze needs to happen quickly is so that the butter softens as little as possible.
- Now use a stout wooden spoon or spatula to start stirring in the icy water and vinegar mix. You want to stir this into the lumpy, buttery flour in four batches, making sure each batch gets absorbed as you stir.
- It’s best not to use your fingers to do this mixing because you want the bits of butter to stay cold and not to start melting into the dough as you add the ice-cold vinegary water. Again, work quickly and keep your stirring to a minimum so that the dough stays cold and keeps its slightly lumpy appearance.
- Form the far from smooth dough into a rough ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it to chill in your refrigerator for 30 minutes. Once that’s happened, it’s time for some rolling and folding.
- Set the chilled ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it with a flour-dusted rolling pin into a rectangle that’s 1/8-inch thick.
- Now fold the shorter sides over one another so that you create a three-layered rectangle of dough. You’ll now have a rectangle of folded dough that’s a third of its unfolded size.
- Roll the folded dough back into a rectangle that’s 1/8-inch thick, and then fold it again into a three-layered rectangle as you did before.
- Cover the folded dough with plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes. That’s it. Once the dough has chilled, you’ll roll into a shape that’s about ¼-inch thick to cover your pie so it’s ready to be baked.
Roasting the chicken legs, and prepping them for the filling
- Start by setting your oven to 400F / 200C.
- Use a roasting dish that’s big enough to hold the chicken legs in a single layer. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the dish and set it to heat on a middle shelf in your oven.
- When the oven reaches temperature, remove the hot, oiled dish and arrange the marinated chicken legs in the dish, skin side up. You want to leave about the half the jerk seasoning in the bowl – you’ll be using it later to baste the chicken while it’s roasting.
- Now drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken and set the dish to roast in your 400F / 200C oven.
- After 15 minutes of roasting, remove the dish and turn the legs over. Spoon the remaining jerk seasoning over the chicken and return the dish to the oven for another 15 minutes of roasting.
- When that time’s up, remove the dish and turn the legs so they are skin side up again. Now use a spoon to give the chicken a thorough basting with the nicely oily seasoning that’s collected in the bottom of the dish.
- Return the basted legs to the oven and drop the heat to 350F / 180C. Let them roast for 15 more minutes, then remove the dish and set it aside to cool. The legs are done.
- As soon as the legs are cool enough to handle, remove them from their roasting dish, strip off the skin and chop it all very finely. Leave the remaining oily seasoning in the dish – it’s going to be added to your pie’s filling a little later.
- Now carefully pull all the meat from the bones so the pieces of meat stay as large as possible and you can cut them into bite-sized chunks. Good. Time now to make the rest of the filling,
Making the pie’s filling
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet (I used a deep, heavy, 12-inch one), and set it on a medium-high heat. Let the oil heat for a minute or so, then add the carrot, celery, and salt.
- Stir fry the carrot and celery on that medium-high heat for 3 minutes or so, until they just begin to pick up a little color.
- Add the onion, leeks, sweet potato, and the finely chopped chicken skin. Continue frying with a few watchful stirs for another 5 minutes on medium-high so that the onion and leeks really soften, and the sweet potatoes start taking on some color around their edges.
- Add the coconut cream, black pepper and the remaining jerk seasoning / basting sauce from the chicken’s roasting dish. Stir thoroughly and drop the heat to low-medium. You now want the creamy mix to slowly simmer and thicken a little for 7 minutes. Give it a few stirs as it simmers away and check for saltiness – you might want to add a little more salt.
- Now carefully stir in the pieces of chicken meat so they stay as intact as possible and turn off the heat. The filling’s done and can sit for a while as you set about assembling your pie ready for baking.
Bringing it all together, and baking your pie
- Set your oven to 425 F / 220C.
- While it heats, remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator and set it on a flour-dusted surface.
- Start rolling the dough with a floured rolling pin into the shape and size of your pie dish. You want the dough to be about ¼-inch thick and to be slightly larger than the top of your pie dish.
- You can check you’ve rolled the dough to the right size and shape by turning your pie dish upside down and setting it on top of the 1/4-inch thick rolled dough. Now run a sharp knife around the outside of the dish so that you cut the dough beneath the dish to exactly the right shape. Nearly time for baking.
- Pour the still-warm filling from the skillet into your pie dish. You should find it comes up to within about a ¼-inch of the top of the dish.
- Mix the beaten egg and milk together and use a pastry brush (or your fingers) to give the rim of your pie dish a light coating of the egg and milk ‘wash’. This helps to stick the edges of your pastry to the upper, inside edges of the pie dish and to the top of its rim.
- Quick as you can, set the cut-to-size pastry on top of the filled dish and use you fingers to crimp the edges into a good seal all around the rim of the dish and its upper inside edges.
- Now use a sharp knife to cut a 2-inch cross into the centre of the pastry. You want to cut right through the pastry so that, as your pie bakes, steam from the filling can easily escape through the slightly open, crossed slits.
- Finally, brush the surface of the pastry with a generous amount of the egg-and-milk wash. This matters because it will give the top of your crust a lovely golden-baked color.
- As soon as you’ve done that, set the pie into your 425 F / 220C oven.
- Let your pie bake at that heat for 20 minutes. Then drop the heat to 350 F / 180C, but don’t be tempted to open the oven’s door. Leave well alone so the pie can bake for another 30 minutes without any heat escaping from the oven.
- After those 30 minutes, you can open the door to check the color of your pie’s crust. If you feel it’s a little too light, let it bake for another 5 minutes or so. And that’s it. Your jerk chicken pie is done.
- Remove the pie from the oven and let it sit and cool for 5 minutes. This cooling time serves two purposes. It lets the pastry firm a little so that you can cut into cleanly. And it also allows the filling to thicken slightly so it’s ready for serving.