“Let’s do the JERK!”
Tell me, how many hot peppers can you handle? This Jamaican jerk marinade is a flavor BOMB! It’s literally an explosion of flavors, where hot peppers, spices, herbs and a hint of sweetness sing in perfect harmony. This island marinade tastes robust yet complex, exotic and lively.
Nothing in this world beats the jerk aroma when that meat hits the grill. All it needs is a good massage with this super easy marinade and rest peacefully for some hours in it, and there you go! I love jerk chicken… I love jerk pork… I love jerk shrimp… I love jerk anything!!
Life is a little easy and relaxed when you have ready to go sauces or marinades backed up in the fridge. We normally have a few different ones, which always come to rescue when we want a meal packed with tons of flavor. A good sauce, dressing or marinade can bring life to plain meat, add a bit of funk to that fish or jazz up some vegetables quickly and easily. And when you need a little spice in your life, jerk is the one that often occupies my mind. Typically jerk is associated with chicken, but there are so many ways you can bring that jerk taste to life.
What is Jerk?
Jerk is a Jamaican style of cooking. This rustic, traditional home cooking method, with it’s unique seasoning, is the Caribbean way to barbecue. Jerked food can be pork, chicken, beef, goat, or fish that has been marinated overnight, even up to 48 hours, in a sauce which usually has large quantities of scotch bonnet peppers, various spices and a few other seasonings.
The term “jerk” is thought to be derived from an English translation of the Spanish word “Charqui”, which means dried preserved strips of meat, like modern day jerky. The technique of jerk suggests it may have started out as a way to preserve wild boar, salting and smoking the meat. Like much of Caribbean cuisine, it’s a multicultural affair. African, Spanish and Native Caribbean influences are evident. There is even an Asian influence, as soy sauce has become a common addition to jerk marinade. Jerk also refers to the action of poking meat with holes so the marinates penetrate deep into it.
Jerk is cooked low and slow in open ground pits or in half-cut steel drums used as makeshift “grills”, or just on your regular grill. All over Jamaica jerk meats are slowly grilling over pimento wood creating those smokey irresistibly juicy tender chicken and meats. They are so popular and loved that one can start smelling the aromas in the air as soon as you step off the plane at the airport.
Over the past few decades jerk has become a worldwide cuisine, thanks to grocery stores carrying some form of prepared jerk spices in the gourmet aisle, but most are pale imitations of the real thing. Nothing compares to the freshness when you grind some fresh scotch bonnet peppers along with allspice and other spices.
Today we are using habanero peppers instead of scotch bonnets, as they are similar in their hotness profile and are much more readily available here in the States. The rest is a pretty simple affair. You can play around with the recipe. The brown sugar can be replaced with juice or pulp from oranges, nectarines, pineapples or mangos. Some even add a splash of dark rum!
This is what you need to make this hot and bold jerk
- Habenaro peppers – Your jerk could be as spicy or mild as you like. You can add more peppers, less peppers or none (oh, but use some… at least a half). The heat can be considerably less if you remove the seeds and the white segments, this way you get to enjoy just the right heat without missing out on the amazing flavors. Be careful handling these peppers (if you have gloves, wear them) and wash your hands once you finish dealing with them.
- Green onion
- Brown sugar
- Soy sauce
- Orange juice
- Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
You see, all those flavors in one jar… my eyes are already shining in anticipation for when I can just dip my finger to give it a taste.
All you have to do is…
Blend everything together in your blender or bullet. Start by adding the larger bits; onion, green onion, garlic, ginger, habanero peppers, thyme. Give the a quick blend. Then add all powdered ingredients along with liquids. Blend it, scraping along the sides if needed, or shaking it in case of a bullet. It will form a nice paste, which should be a little on the rougher side. This way when it’s time to marinate it sticks to the meat nicely.
It will naturally have a little brown color due to the soy sauce, cinnamon and nutmeg. But to get a more vibrant brown color, add a hint of Kitchen Bouquet browning seasoning… it’s one of the Jamaican secrets.
How to store Jerk Marinade
This can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week. You can also freeze it for 3 months. I recommend making the marinade into cubes in an ice tray and, once frozen, keeping the cubes in a freezer friendly ziploc bag. This way you can control the portion by just thawing the required amount of cubes, rather than the entire batch.
How to make Jerk chicken
Simple. All you need to do is marinate and cook. But I do have a few tips for that perfect juicy chicken, with a carnival of jerk flavors for your mouth.
Use chicken with bone in it, like drumsticks, thighs, wings or even whole chicken. Prick the chicken with a fork or make a few slits in the meat so the marinade goes deeper (bonus flavor if you have a marinade syringe!). Now wear a glove and massage the jerk marinade liberally all over the chicken for a good five minutes.
Use the marinade with whole heart. You need a lot of flavors. If using skin, lift the skin and push the jerk under the skin so it reaches the meat. Then marinade it in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Overnight marination is when you really see the flavors go deep into the meat. When ready to cook, you can grill, smoke or even bake your jerk chicken. It turns out great every single time.
While those flavors are seeping in, check out my list of the 25 Best Homemade Marinade Recipes.
Some other Jerk meal ideas
- Jerk chicken made even more tropical with a cool and sweet side of mango salsa.
- Jerk chicken skewers… think jerk marinated chicken bites skewed together with colorful peppers, onion and pineapple.
- Jerk chicken tacos with avocado, guacamole or even guasacaca… maybe 🙂
- Jerk pork
- Jerk snapper. Seafood won’t need overnight marination, as it is more delicate. 30 minutes to an hour is perfect.
- Jerk shrimp
- Jerk tenderloin… yum!
- Jerk Cornish game hen
- Jerk meatballs
So many options… so many ideas… so many flavors. Please don’t shy away from the heat, it’s very easily adjusted. That’s the beauty of making your own customizable jerk. The spicy, tangy, sweet and savory… yes, it’s everything and some more. Whirl it in your blender. Use it on something, I strongly recommend trying the famous chicken. Turn on some Reggae… make some Pina coladas… and fire up that grill… Yah Mon!! Do the Jerk!!
Jamaican Jerk Marinade, on my Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
- 1-3 habanero peppers (1 for mild, 2 for medium hot and 3 for extra hot)
- 5 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 7-8 sprigs of thyme
- 8 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 inch ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp allspice pimento berries or powder
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- Put bigger chunks like chopped onion, scallion, ginger, garlic, thyme and habanero peppers in the blender and blend well.
- Add remaining ingredients and blend until you have a rough paste like consistency, scraping down from sides in between if necessary.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container until further use.
We used 2 habanero peppers. Start with one, and add more if you wish.
Be cautious when handling the habanero peppers, especially the seeds, as they are very hot. Use gloves if available and wash hands immediately afterwards.
For extra mild flavors, discard the seeds and white segments from the peppers and use as little as you wish.
Taste and adjust for salt, sourness and sweetness in the end. The final product should turn up to your taste buds' liking.
To freeze, put jerk marinade in ice tray and freeze into cubes. Then place in ziploc bag and store in freezer. When ready to use, simply thaw as many cubes as you wish.
Nutrition InformationYield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 86Total Fat 4gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 0mgSodium 733mgCarbohydrates 12gFiber 2gSugar 6gProtein 2g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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