According to Rick Browne, author of this week's Cook the Book selection, The Best Barbecue on Earth, Jamaica "may well be the birthplace of barbecue in its most classic sense: slow, smoky cooking over low heat." Jerks—from chicken, pork, and beef, to vegetables, fish, and soup—are ubiquitous in Jamaica, available at fancy bistros, roadside cafes, and in home kitchens.
The term "jerk" is used to describe both the seasoning, primarily allspice and Scotch bonnet chilies or any combination of other spices like cinnamon, thyme, garlic, cloves, and sugar. Jerk is also the method of slow, smoky cooking.
Today's recipe is for Jamaican barbecue banana birds. Cornish hens are marinated for 8 hours in a boozy bath of rum, cinnamon, white pepper, garlic, and cloves. Then, they are stuffed with a ripe banana and bread crumb stuffing, and grilled until juicy and tender.
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- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup dark Jamaican rum
- 2 (1 1/2- to 2-pound) Cornish hens, or small chickens
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 1/2 cups diced ripe banana
- 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 2 1/2 cups tightly packed fresh bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- Juice of 2 fresh lemons
In a saucepan, combine the cinnamon, white pepper, garlic powder, cloves, and rum. Cook over low heat until warmed through. Set aside to cool.
Wash and pat birds dry. Transfer them to a large resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate for 8 hours in the refrigerator.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling, placing a drip pan under the cool side of the grill rack. Preheat to 375ºF. Make sure the grill rack is clean and oil it thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.
Drain the Cornish hens and set them aside. Discard the marinade.
In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil the onion, banana, poultry seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, allspice, bread crumbs, and butter, mixing well. Lightly pack the mixture into each of the hens and secure with toothpicks or by trussing with kitchen string.
For the basting liquid, in a small bowl combine the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the lemon juice; set aside.
Transfer the hens to the prepared grill rack over indirect heat. Lower the grill lid and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170ºF. Using a long-handled brush, baste the hens 2 or 3 times during cooking with the basting liquid.
Let the hens rest, covered, for 10 minutes (the internal temperature will rise to 180ºF). Remove the stuffing and serve it alongside half a hen on each plate.