To those of you who read my blog with any regularity and/or know me personally, and who know of my ADDICTION to spicy food (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), it should come as no surprise that I have been obsessed with making, and perfecting, my own Jamaican jerk sauce. I should state a disclaimer: I have never been to Jamaica. But I’ve loved jerk seasoning ever since I first encountered a seriously fiery jerk paste while I was working in a spice shop at age 21. I’ve conducted exhaustive “research” on Jamaican jerk sauce; i.e., I eat jerk whenever I can and I try lots of different jerk sauces. London’s got a huge West Indian population, and during the Notting Hill Carnival, my favourite place to be is Golborne Road, where the food stalls are crammed the tightest, the air is so smoky from oil drum barbecues it makes your eyes sting, and you can get a plate of jerk chicken and rice and peas and plantains for £5.
There is a triumvirate (trifecta, if you will) at the heart of all great jerk sauces. This trifecta consists of allspice berries (not powder), fresh thyme (not dried), and scotch bonnet peppers (not habaneros). Each of these components is essential; no substitutions are permitted. What you do next, however, is up to you. Usually there’s garlic involved, sometimes scallions, sometimes onions, definitely vinegar, sugar, and salt. It should be SPICY.
The proper way to cook jerk anything is to grill it, preferably after marinating whatever you’re cooking at least overnight. And by “grill” I don’t mean glowing-hot-coals-done-in-20-minutes. You want indirect heat, plenty of smoke, and slow, loving, cooking until the outside of your meat is a dark woody brown and the interior is falling apart. (I read that in the West Indies, often allspice branches will be added to the coals. How cool is that?) I am really proud of the jerk sauce I made. I think it is freaking fantastic. However the proof, as they say, is in the pork (coming soon!). I did try this on fish and it was just as it should be: spicy, a little sweet, a little tangy, with the strong, slightly woody, aromatic greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts flavour that comes when you marry thyme, allspice berries, and scotch bonnets. Ingredients:
1 teaspoon allspice berries
4 scotch bonnet peppers, seeded (wear gloves if unused to handling hot peppers)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (no stems)
1 tablespoon malt or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons salt
½ cup (100 grams) brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses or black treacle
2 large cloves garlic
½ small onion
Juice of ½ lime
Toast allspice berries in a pan over medium heat until fragrant and slightly brown. Using a mortar and pestle or spice mill (if you have one), or a food processor, crush the berries to a coarse powder. Combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Your jerk sauce will keep in a jar in your fridge for at least a month, if not longer.
Sounds delicious and is an amazing colour too. I’m not at expert at all on jerk sauce but I love it whenever I have it.
Thank you! The colour is all thanks to the molasses.
Wow, Susan, this looks deadly spicy!! Unfortunately, I am a wimp and can’t tolerate spicy foods, but this sauce looks lovely. It sounds like it has great flavor, in addition to all the heat.
If you don’t like spicy food, this sauce is definitely not for you. I honestly think I have a spicy food addiction. At home I eat chili sauce with almost everything! Thanks for this sweet note.
Definitely one of my favorites!
I used to make a mean jerk chicken and it was my son’s favorite. I don’t know why I stopped. It just doesn’t pop into my head when I’m preparing for a meal, but you have reminded me to get that recipe out – or try yours – and get cooking. Thanks.
Oof, yes please! I love spicy food as does my boyfriend although weirdly I’ve never made my own jerk sauce. Definitely going to try this on pork and maybe chicken too. Great recipe 🙂
What a gorgeous photo of your sauce with the lime, Susan. I’ve always been afraid of jerk sauce, although I like spicy food. I haven’t eaten much jerked chicken though and wouldn’t know what to expect — I think it is the prominent use of allspice that scares me.
that sounds freaking awesome susan! I haven’t done as much ‘research’ as you have so I’m one of those who will be contented with any passable jerk sauce, but this takes it to a new level. since I stay in southeast london, finding scotch bonnet peppers isn’t too much of a problem for me, so I have no excuse!
I have to try this. It looks incredible. I loved reading about your process too! Here’s to spicy food!
I have been in love with jerk chicken since trying it at a little shack in Jamaica. I’m going to try your jerk sauce but will start with one pepper and go from there.
This sauce sounds fantastic. I’ve never tried making my own marinades, but probably because I haven’t had a recipe like this!
hi susan, my wife and i are also jerk fanatics. we have been to Jamaica 15 times and always try some jerk from different places. we have been perfecting a recipe for 5 years and 1 year ago we started a business selling our sauce. we have a nice story on our site and we think you would love it.
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This is probably a dumb question but I want to use this with fish. Is it intended as primarily a marinade or a sauce to put over the meat?
Hi Kevin, thanks for visiting. This jerk sauce is quite spicy, so it’s best used as a marinade rather than a standalone sauce, although you can probably use it as a condiment (i.e., serve it alongside). I actually used this as a marinade for fish (see this recipe https://susaneatslondon.com/2012/02/25/jerk-marinated-tilapia-with-plantains-and-tangy-fish-broth/) and it was very tasty. Let me know how this works out for you. Happy cooking!
I too am crazy about Caribbean Jerk and I’ve made up my mind that I am going to make my own recipe of this incredible sauce that drives my taste buds crazy:)
I will try your recipe and go from there:)
Have a blessed saucy day and thank you I have enjoyed reading your blog:)