Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Caribbean Meal to End the Grilling Season

Jerk Chicken with Caribbean Rice and Fruit Salsa
Up in these northern climes, we have been in full Fall mode since day-one of the Autumn solstice. It is imperative to make use of any day that it is nice enough to use the grill. Soon there will be snow and sub zero temperatures and it becomes less exciting (if even possible) to be outside. Period.

So, in that vein, I decided to make a Caribbean style meal all around. My choices were Jerk marinade for both lamb chops and chicken, alongside such things as Caribbean Rice and a most excellent Grilled Pineapple and Mango Salsa.  As for the Jerk marinade, I had made Jerk chicken in the past. Some recipes I had used were so-so, to my taste buds, and others were a bit better. I had never used any chilies in the marinade, despite chilies being one of the main ingredients. My husband is not one who tolerates very highly spicy hot foods, and while I enjoy them, I also don't care to burn off my taste buds. 

Jerk Lamb Chops hot off the Grill
This time, however, I opted to use a couple of Habanero chilies (Scotch Bonnet were unavailable) in the jerk marinade, and was ultimately quite disappointed that there was really no heat at all in the finished food. Either this batch of Habaneros were duds, or they are breeding them with alternate levels of heat! I did remove the seeds, but even so, I had always been afraid to use these chilies in past, after all the hype. Despite the lack of chili-kick, there was nothing wrong with the flavor of the jerk marinade, and it came out great on both lamb chops and on chicken. 

Jerk Chicken Meal with fried plantains
As usual when I am researching for a new recipe, I first gather information, and then compare what is done. Another aspect is taking into account anything that can be found that would make a dish more authentic to an area. In this case of Jerk marinade, I found a site that gave a very few parameters, stating that the most famous of Jerk food restaurants do not divulge their recipes, so a lot is open to interpretation. What I gleaned was that absolute must-haves in a jerk marinade are:
  • allspice
  • fresh thyme
  • Scotch Bonnet chilies
  • scallions
  • fresh ginger
Other things commonly added:
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • brown or white sugar
  • soy sauce 
  • oil
With this list in mind, I also opted for a few other ingredients such as garlic, bay leaves, lime juice and black peppercorns. Ultimately, I feel that the sugar I used might have easily been left out altogether. While it tasted good, it was more sweet than I had ever tasted, so felt less "right". So, in my estimation, more chilies and less, if any, sugar. You may find this list of ingredients works for you, although it is always encouraged to make a recipe your own. Here is my jerk marinade recipe, which makes plenty enough to use for a meal with enough left over to freeze a couple of containers for later.
Jerk Chicken

Jerk Marinade

makes 2 1/2 cups
Jerk Lamb Chops with Grilled Asparagus

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries 
3-inches true (soft-quill) cinnamon stick, broken
1/2 of one whole nutmeg, broken
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 whole bay leaves, center vein removed, crumbled

8 - 10 scallions, with green tops, in 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, cut in wedges
6 cloves fresh garlic
1 large knob fresh ginger
1 - 5 Habanero chilies (or Scotch Bonnet, if available)
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil or other cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat a dry skillet to quite hot and add in all the whole spices. Using a wooden spoon, stir the spices constantly until they are very fragrant but not browned. Immediately turn them out onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, pour into a blender container.

Add all the remaining ingredients into the blender and blend to a paste. Use this paste to marinate 2 whole chickens, cut up, or divide the marinade into two or three portions and marinate smaller amounts of pork (tenderloin or pork chops) or chicken, or lamb chops as desired. This marinade can be frozen for later use. 

Marinate any meat for a minimum of 24 hours for best flavor. Grill the meats to desired doneness for best flavor, although it may also be baked or broiled.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.