In Praise of Jerked Veggies

Credit: John Lawson, Belhaven / Getty Images

Jerk seasoning does not mess around. A powerful combination of allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, and a host of other spices, jerk seasoning is either applied to meat as a dry rub or as a sauce, and smoked or grilled to enhance the seasoning's smoky taste. But jerk is applied to meat, namely pork or chicken. It’s only been recently that anyone's really thought to put it on anything else, especially since it can easily overpower the more delicate flavors and textures of fish or vegetables. But with a few tweaks to your technique, you can jerk just about anything.

Wait, that sounded really awkward. Just trust me. 

Choose your vegetables
Chef Christine Lau of Bar Chuko Izakaya has had a jerk avocado dish on her menu for the last month, which has become incredibly popular. "We had the jerk sauce recipe for a quail dish, and I really like to utilize the grill well. And so I thought let's try putting the avocado on the grill, because it's creamy and spicy and they’re going to help offset each other." Lau chooses slightly unripe avocados to stay firm on the grill, but says almost any heartier vegetable will do, like root vegetables or thick squash. "I think jerk would be great with beets, on the grill again, sliced in big coins and painted with jerk sauce."

Chef Adam Schop of Miss Lily's agrees that jerk is a "multipurpose seasoning that packs a lot of flavor," and they use it on their menu on lobster, corn, fries, and more. "Mushrooms and eggplant lend themselves particularly well to jerk seasoning," he says, as well as both silken and firm tofu.


Be delicate with the grill
Of course, you can't just substitute a hunk of butternut squash for a chicken leg; vegetables need a little gentler treatment. "When making any form of jerk meat, I actually grill it over low heat. Consequently, when making jerk vegetables, I like to marinate them for 3–5 hours and then grill them over high heat," says Chef Schop. Chef Lau also likes to marinate her vegetables in jerk sauce, and adds "a little olive oil, so your flavor will be a little lighter." Another technique is to skip the marinade, but just brush the sauce on the vegetables as they grill. That way you can layer as much flavor as you want.

Experiment with your sides
Traditionally, jerk meat is served with sides like rice, plantains, and some other cooked vegetables. I could eat those all day, but if you're experimenting with jerk seasoning, why not experiment with everything that goes with it? "My favorite is a play on agedashi tofu. It's soft tofu marinated in a jerk marinade, fried crispy, and served over a jerk-infused dashi broth with grilled long beans," says Chef Schop. Chef Lau serves her jerk avocado with puffed rice and a splash of lime. And while of course you can and should experiment with making your own jerk seasoning, Lau says "there are a couple brands that are really good, from Jamaica, that you can buy in the states, like Walkerswood." 

Jerk Eggplant from Miss Lily's Executive Chef Adam Schop

Ingredients 

  • 2 medium eggplants (light in weight)

Directions

  • Cut in half, sprinkle with salt and let sit for 2 hours to let some of the moisture out.
  • Cover with jerk seasoning and let sit for 3–5 hours.
  • Place on very hot grill and sear on all sides until tender.

Jerk Seasoning

Yields 1 cup

  • 2 bunches green onions
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 scotch bonnet chiles
  • 1 knob ginger root
  • 20 whole allspice berries
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce 

Directions 

  • Put all ingredients in a food processor and turn on until smooth paste is formed

Bar Chuko Izakaya's Grilled Jerk Avocado  

Jerk Sauce

Ingredients 

  • 330 g Scallion — finely chopped — only the greens if possible
  • 100 g Scotch Bonnet Pepper — deseeded
  • 35 g garlic — peeled — butts removed
  • 3 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 0.25 cup allspice
  • 0.25 cup black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger – peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 0.5 cup dark brown sugar

Directions 

  1. Combine ingredients in blender, and blend until fully emulsified. It is important not to over stuff the blender so it helps to split the combined ingredients in half and do this in two parts.

Avocado 

Ingredients 

  • 1 avocado 

Directions

  • Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Score with hash marks — this helps it cook faster and makes it easier to eat as well. Make sure to only score about half way down.
  • Brush with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and season with salt.
  • Place on grill cut side down until it has nice grill marks.
  • Flip the Avocado so it’s peel side down, and brush the sauce on the cut side.
  • Grill until it's cooked all the way through.
  • You can use a cake tester or toothpick to test if it is done — should be tender all the way through.
  • Remove from the grill — dress with finishing salt and olive oil.
  • Serve with lime and a spoon to enjoy.
  • Note: In the restaurant we also serve this with crispy puffed rice that we sprinkle on top for texture. This step is not necessary but can be achieved not only with the rice, but any puffed or crispy grain as well as breadcrumbs.