When I was in elementary school in Prince George, Northern British Columbia, where winters reached 40 below and school would be closed, my mom worked at a muffin bakery shop where she would bring my sister and I after hours for a treat of peanut butter cookies or sticky buns as she and her boss, Ouida, would prep for the next morning.
Sometimes as Ouida and mom would wait for the breads to rise we would be allowed a peanut butter cookie or sticky bun left over from the day (if we were lucky since sticky buns were usually sold out by noon). Ouida taught my litter sister and I the sugary mixture of soda pop from the dispenser she called swamp mix. I remember one night sneaking an extra half of a chocolate chip cookie leaving the extra half in the display case and blaming my sister when Ouida discovered the evidence. She scolded my sister but I came clean only after she had finished and my sister had tears welling up in her eyes. I just made more work for her that night as she wagged her finger at me explaining that it was wrong of me to let her yell at my sister as I licked the peanutty crumbs from the corner of my mouth, the baking timer ringing in the bright kitchen, echoing throughout the dark store. I’ve always loved my sweets.
Eventually Ouida became like an aunty to us as she, at first, lived down the hall from us in our apartment building. We would go sledding together and even took her ice skating, something she had never done before and I am sure she never will do again. After my family decided to move out of the apartment Ouida came with us and lived on the first floor of our new home. We would drink tea, have dance parties with Shaggy or Janet Jackson playing in the background and she would tell us about the happy times she had in Jamaica with her many brothers and mother before she left for Canada.
My favourite memory of Ouida is when my mom and her would engage in these delicious cooking wars to see who could make the hottest shepherds pie, meatloaf and my favourite jerk chicken. I am grateful for my upbringing in Prince George despite the limited opportunities, cold winters and deteriorating safety for a young kid to grow up. I am grateful because my family was able to engage with many other cultures and foods. It is because of Ouida that I can eat spicy dishes and love them. It is because of Ouida that my family was inspired to spend the holidays in Jamaica. And it is because of Ouida that I write this recipe to warm up your winter. I eat this to cure colds, warm up during snow falls like tonight and to remember Ouida.
While I was in Jamaica I learned that there are two kinds of jerk chicken: BBQ & gravy. This recipe is the latter because Ouida grew up in Kingston and on that side of the island they prefer the gravy version. I tried the BBQ in Negril and it is equally as delicious but I don’t have the skill to repurpose half cut steel drums, otherwise the taste wouldn’t be the same.
So here’s a wintry feast that’ll take you away to Jamaica for a night.
1 pack of chicken thighs (8-12) (boneless and skinless would work fine)
2 large garlic cloves
2 Bay Leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups chicken broth
1 generous pinch of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 scotch bonnet pepper or 3 tablespoons scotch bonnet pepper hot sauce (add more if you want it really spicy)
1. On medium heat in a large saucepan add olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.
2. Add brown sugar and the 4 cups of chicken broth. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
3. Add thyme, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, all spice, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, and scotch bonnet pepper. Stir until combined. Try not to break the pepper.
4. Turn heat to low and cover. The longer you allow the mixture to sit on low heat the more intense the spiciness will be.
5. Taste. Spice it up if you want at this point or sweeten it up if you rather. Mix 2 tablespoons water and cornstarch in separate container. Add cornstarch mixture to thicken it up until it becomes like gravy.
5. Preheat oven at 400° F.
6. In a frying pan brown the chicken thighs seasoned with salt and pepper. Place in a large casserole dish or two small casserole dishes.
7. Pour the spice mixture over the chicken thighs until covered. Add more chicken stock or water if there isn’t enough liquid to cover.
8. Put it in the oven for 45 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the centre.
Airie mon! You’re done! Serve with rice and soft buns to mop up the gravy with or make second day jerk chicken sandwiches (if there are any leftovers;).
You could combine all these ingredients in a crockpot and have it ready for you by the end of the day.
For a unique gift idea for any foodie you could put all the dry ingredients into a jar, decorate with green, yellow, red and black ribbon for a quick way to provide a Jamaican dinner. Especially good for those who have a cold!