September 4, 2009

Jerk Seasoning: Turning up the heat and flavor

When grilling chicken breasts I will usually marinate them for a few hours in Italian dressing and then season them with a rub prior to cooking. This is a fairly straight forward practice and helps add moisture and flavor to an otherwise bland piece of meat. However, the other day I worked up the courage to use a jerk marinade. Jerk is a potent spice paste which adds a tremendous amount of flavor to chicken, pork, or fish. It originated in Jamaica during the 1700's. The spice comes from scotch bonnet/habanero chilies. If you can take the heat this marinade will rock your taste buds. The combination of ingredients creates a flavor profile which is earthy, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. I found myself sweating with a smile on my face.

The recipe below was adapted from The Barbecue Bible: Sauces Rubs and Marinades by Steven Raichlen. This is a very informative book focused on how to add flavor to food cooked outdoors.

2 habanero chilies
1 medium onion
1/2 cup shallots
2 bunches of green onions
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tsp fresh ginger
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
water as needed to create consistency of paste

Chop all the ingredients and place in a blender. Add the remaining spices/seasonings. Add water slowly and blend until a paste like consistency is achieved. The finished paste should be stored in the refrigerator. For the best results make the seasoning the day before. This will allow time for the flavors to develop.

Approximate marinating times: Fish: 1 hour, Chicken: 2-8 hours , and Pork loin overnight.

The original recipe called for 4 to 12 scotch bonnet chilies. I only used two habanero peppers (this is what was available at my grocery store) with the seeds removed and it was still pretty hot. If you have a sensitive palate I would recommend starting with one pepper and see how you respond. Another possible option would be to substitute serrano chilies which have more heat than a jalapeno but significantly less than the habanero.

A word of caution: Be careful when handling hot peppers. The oils in the pepper can irritate your skin or nasal tissues. Do not touch your face with your hands until after you've washed them thoroughly. Be sure to completely wash and rinse cutting boards or utensils which come into contact with the pepper. While cutting up the habanero I wore disposable latex gloves.

If I haven't scared you away yet I would encourage you to venture outside your comfort zone and try this seasoning. The flavors are amazing. My niece Kylie described the marinade as the most flavorful, spicy seasoning she ever tasted.


  1. As I have personaly tasted this creation I would have to say: Jerk Rocks!! The heat of the marinade can make you sweat(a good one), but the linger of nutmeg and ginger is what I enjoy most. It's not just another night of chicken, it's an experience!

  2. Spicey is not my flavor of choice. This jerk marinade was fantastic. We used it in fajitas so sour cream and cheese cut the flame for me. I really enjoyed the jerk.

  3. I found myself blown away by the amount of flavor and heat. It started with a hint of sweetness followed by the earthiness of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and then finished with the heat of the habanero. The flavor experience made me sweat and smile all at the same time.