Be the Perfect Jerk

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

North Coast Jerk PorkTrying to recreate favorite dishes from distant lands can be daunting, but I discovered this past weekend that there is one word to keep in mind while trying it: scratch.  That's right, forget about prepared (commercial) spice mixes, marinades, and sauces, and make the seasonings from scratch.  Take jerk pork, for example.  I totally fell in love with jerk pork as the Jamaicans make it, highly spiced and smoke-grilled.  But I have been unable to re-create it with prepared jerk seasonings.  So I went back to my recipe files and found a recipe that I collected in Ocho Rios, and gave it a try.  At first, while marinating, the mixture looked way too herbal and green to do the job, but once the pork started browning on the grill, it looked right. Damn near perfect, and I'm breaking my own arm patting myself on the back.  Take a look at the shot above, right off the grill.  Not exactly a perfectly-styled photo shoot, but hey, it's a snapshot straight from the grill.  And amazingly delicious.  Here is the recipe I used, and I marinated "country-style" pork ribs in it for six hours, and then slowly smoke-grilled them over low heat.  See you in Jamaica, mon!

North Coast Jerk Marinade

Variations on Jamaican jerk sauces and marinades range from the early, simple pastes of three or four ingredients to the more modern and rather complicated concotions with as many twenty-one spices, herbs, and vegetables. By varying the amount of vegetable oil and lime juice added, the cook can change the consistency from a paste to a sauce. Traditionally, it is used with pork, chicken, or fish.

1/4 cup whole Jamaican pimento berries (or 1/8 cup ground allspice)
3 Scotch bonnet chiles (or habaneros), seeds and stems removed, chopped
10 scallions (green onions), chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 bay leaves, crushed
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lime juice
Water

Roast the pimento berries in a dry skillet until they are aromatic, about 2 minutes. Remove and crush them to a powder in a mortar or spice mill.

Add the pimento powder and the remaining ingredients to a food processor and blend with enough water to make a paste or sauce. Remove and store in a jar in the refrigerator; it will keep for a month or more.

Yield: 2 to 3 cups
Heat Scale: Hot

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