Although Jamaican chefs and family cooks keep their recipes close to their chests, all of them can agree on one thing: Jamaican jerk sauce ingredients. A few key components like allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and garlic are necessary to get the right flavor down. Other seasoning blends might include scallions, onions, salt, black pepper, and more. Jamaican jerk sauce should be challengingly spicy, so it's important to not skimp on the peppers. Cooks should also keep in mind that the peppers tend to mellow a bit during the cooking process.
A Brief History of Jerk Sauce
Jerk is an important part of Jamaican history, tracing back to the middle of the 17th century, and possibly even earlier. The term jerk is thought to be from the Spanish word for dried meat, charqui, which has been transformed into the English jerky. It is likely connected to the way the meat gets poked, prodded, and jerked around the grill as it cooks.
How to Use the Sauce
Although the seasoning blend has been traditionally used with pork, all types of meat are now seasoned this way. For example, cooks can rub this spicy jerk sauce on chicken, pork, beef or fish. For pork shoulder, chefs can score the fat and rub the sauce into the cuts. Then, they can loosen the skin on whole or cut-up the chicken before brushing the sauce underneath it and into the cavity. This preparation style can also be used deliciously on a firm-fleshed fish such as grouper.
It's important to marinate meat for at least eight hours or overnight. In fact, marinate scored whole fish for up to one hour and steaks or fillets for no more than half an hour. Meat or fish can be grilled slowly over a low fire, preferably charcoal, until it's done. The meat should look "pinkish," with dark skin. For an added authentic flavor, chefs can find pimento wood (from the tree that yields the allspice berries) which is available online and at some specialty food stores. Finally, they can chop the meat into pieces and serve it island-style with fresh jerk sauce on the side, traditional hard dough bread, and plenty of cold Jamaican Red Stripe Beer.
- 1/2 cup ground allspice berries
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 6 to 8 garlic cloves
- 4 to 6 Scotch bonnet peppers, seeded and cored
- 1 tablespoon ground thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves)
- 2 bunches scallions
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (to moisten)
- Put all of the ingredients into a food processor or a blender and process until smooth.
Tips for Jerk Sauce Recipes
- You can put whole allspice berries straight into the food processor or blender. If this process is used, be sure to use the equivalent of 1/2 cup ground.
- Adjust the number of peppers and garlic cloves according to your tolerance for heat.
- Wear gloves when you work with scotch bonnet or other hot peppers.
- Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator indefinitely.
- Learn how to make a delicious Jamaican jerk flank steak recipe.