Jerk Marinade

A common theme in my cooking is big flavors.  Go big or go home.  Grilling is one area of cuisine where the flavors have to be big.  There is no way around it… no one wants ‘subtle’ flavors at a bbq; flavors need to be bold, spicy, and pack a punch!

So we add flavors.  Layers? of course, as long as the food is still delicious.  You don’t want to add big seasoning if it doesn’t make sense.  I have mentioned previously that balance is critical when building flavors.  Anyone can make something spicy.  Anyone can make something sweet.  But can you balance the two to make something incredible?  I don’t see why not.

Speaking of huge flavors, it seems the tropical areas of the world have an abundance.  The indigenous spices, peppers, herbs and flavor combinations are truly remarkable.  I love them.

In this one single marinade you will build all the flavor layers you need, achieve the ‘balance’ that is so critical, and not have to do much else than season with salt and grill.

This is based on a Jamaican jerk marinade.  The sweet is brown sugar, spicy is scotch bonnet peppers (or habanero), and flavors involve an incredible array of spices and herbs.  The acid (marinades must have acids) is lime juice and orange juice.

This recipe is a keeper.  I have made this in restaurants and at home, and every time, it’s a big hit!

Jerk Marinade

Prep time:
Makes 2 cups
10 minutes


2 naval oranges
4 limes
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 scotch bonnet peppers (or habanero) stem removed
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1 in pieces
5 sprigs Jamaican thyme, cut into 1 in pieces
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp black pepper corns
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cloves garlic


In a heavy saute pan, toast the cloves, allspice and peppercorns.  Once fragrant, let them cool and grind in a spice grinder.

Juice the oranges and limes and add juice to a bar blender.  Add all other ingredients and puree until as smooth as possible.

Marinade is ready.

Far and away my favorite thing to use this marinade on is chicken.  Whole chicken, cut Chinese style (16 piece cut with  bones).  Set the chicken to marinade overnight (2 days marinade is better).  Salt liberally before grilling and grill over open charcoal fire.  Traditionally, the Jamaicans will sprinkle the chicken with Red Stripe beer while cooking to keep it moist and keep the fire low.  I don’t know if you want to waste the beer, but tradition is tradition.

Serve with whatever you want, but I would stay close to the islands with this one.  Steamed jasmine rice, sweet potato curry, fresh mango with lime juice, slow cooked black eyed peas, and so on.

Side note, this marinade works very well with whole fish (like sea bass).  Marinade the fish, inside and out, salt before cooking, and wrap the fish tightly in banana leaf and grill over very high heat.


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