Jamaican Jerk Marinade

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Here’s a recipe for Jamaican jerk marinade that you can use to flavor and then grill or roast just about anything you’d like. You can even make lots and can it, or store it in the freezer.

Jamaican food traditions have profoundly influenced our American conception of cookery.

The Taino way of charqui – smoking strips of meat over a lattice of green allspice wood, covered with leaves from the allspice tree, and seasoned with crushed allspice berries – gave rise to both Jamaican jerk and to jerky. The Taino barbacoa evolved into barbecue. Allspice is a kitchen staple, beloved of pie bakers, sausage makers, and all sorts of cooks in between.

My recipe for jerk marinade is a delicious celebration of these traditions. Use it for chicken, pork, beef, tofu – whatever you would like to enjoy on your grill. Or even from your oven!

Skip to the recipe for Jamaican jerk marinade.

This recipe is based on one from “Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Carribbean Style”
by Helen Willinsky. I made several changes to it. I’ll walk you through them. I encourage you to approach all recipes analytically. It’s an important part of learning how to cook. But it’s rarely discussed in cookbooks. Why is one ingredient specified rather than another? Why is it included at all? Ask yourself these questions. Follow them to their logical ends. Become a maker of wonderful foods, not just a recipe follower. This inspirational message is brought to you by

I didn’t use soy sauce because (to my knowledge) it’s not a Jamaican ingredient and I didn’t want to move the flavor profile in the direction soy sauce would take it.

Because of eliminating the soy sauce, I doubled the amount of salt and added more liquid in the form of more vinegar.

I cut out the oil. Marinade doesn’t need oil; what would its function be? I think it gets in the way of the flavored acid permeating the target protein. The oil and vinegar want to separate, anyway. It doesn’t make sense to me to have it in there.

My recipe specifies habanero pepper only. Different types of pepper really do taste different, especially after permeating food for a long time, such as with a marinade.

I didn’t see the point in finely chopping anything, considering the food processor was going to make a paste of everything anyway.

I use naturally fermented cane vinegar – the traditional vinegar of Jamaica – instead of apple cider or white (grain) vinegar. As far as I know, neither apples nor wheat grows in Jamaica.

Jamaican jerk marinde
The recipe

1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground Jamaica allspice
1/2 nutmeg, grated fine, or 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
habanero chile pepper, seeds and membrane removed
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup cane vinegar

Makes about 1 1/2 cups; enough for about 4 pounds of meat

Equipment that bears mentioning
Food processor

In a nutshell
Blend everything together. Marinate with it.

In detail
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Use immediately or store in refrigerator or freezer until use. You could can it and give it as Christmas presents!

To use
Place in a zip-top bag with 4–5 pounds of meat, such as chicken leg quarters. Rub bag to distribute seasonings. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 5 days. If you want to keep it longer before cooking, freeze meat and bag and all for up to several months.

Let marinated meat come to room temperature. Cook on a medium-hot grill, turning every couple of minutes, for an hour. Or, place in a roasting pan and roast at 350 for an hour and a half to two hours.

Source recipe
Jerk Marinade
Page 8
Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Carribbean Style
Helen Willinsky
Ten Speed Press, Berkeley/Toronto, 2007

Makes about 1 1/2 cups; enough for about 4 pounds of meat
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground Jamaica allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 habanero, jalapeño or serrano chili, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar

In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients and process until smooth. Store leftover marinade in the refrigerator in a tightly closed jar for about 1 month.

Additional reading
Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Carribbean Style
Helen Willinsky
Ten Speed Press, Berkeley/Toronto, 2007
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