If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m hoping that a loosely inspired recreation is not too far behind a heartfelt showcase of admiration. Case in point: my version of a jerk sauce. I recently had the pleasure of attending the demonstrations (and a shameless tasting) of the Kitchen’s in action at the new Turtle Bay restaurant opening in Cardiff on St. Mary’s Street. While my strengths do not lie in the reviewing – I am hesitant to pass judgement on anybody’s culinary skills – I am confident in knowing when I enjoy a plate of food and I guarantee you, I enjoyed said plate of food.
What the night left me with, however, was a desire to go home and set my Kitchen ablaze with the layered flavoured flames of the Caribbean island. I hope this doesn’t make the process of eating out redundant as like I said, not only do you get the flavours of the Caribbean with Turtle Bay’s jerk style cooking, you also get the 360 island experience. But again, being a home cook with a penchant for original recipes as opposed to restaurant critiques, my own way of honouring my experience was to attempt my own jerk sauce at home.
The manager at Turtle Bay explained the complex layering of the flavours and how each flavouring is introduced at different points to exude different flavours – a process I find quite comforting with home cooking as it eliminates the idea of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a pot and praying for the best. I found comfort in this idea and started to rattle around my cupboards for flavourings I could identify as being similar to that I tasted at Turtle Bay Cardiff.
Now, I’m sure many a Caribbean chef will shudder at my choice of ingredients but like I said, this was my hap handed freestyled attempt at recreating the smoky fire of a jerk sauce without needing to stretch my arm too far or go anywhere too exotic. I also need to explain some of the shameless replacements in my jerk sauce as opposed to those commonly found in jerk sauces you may have heard of.
I used a much milder chili as opposed to a Scotch Bonnet due to pure intentions. I was giving jars of this sauce to some friends who I know consider themselves victim to the siren call of chili fire so I opted for a throat warming heat as opposed to face melting burn. I used the stalks of thyme and coriander. Don’t get me wrong, the recipe calls for thyme anyway and I found that food with jerk sauce is always better with a leafy sprinkle of coriander on top however I was catering for coriander-phobes (aren’t they the worst?) and figured if I snuck a little coriander into the body of the sauce, they will still experience it’s peppery cut whilst needn’t knowing it was there.
And finally, I always like a little acidity in my sauces. While 9 times out of 10 I will opt for a lime (and have had partners ridicule me for always adding a citrus to my food) not only was I searching for something a little sweeter on the palette in contrast to all the heavy flavours… I had also run out of limes. Inspiration, while being a beautiful force of nature, has absolutely no care for your resources and will strike you at any time. My jerk inspiration struck me when I was sans lime and in plenty of oranges so I thought fast, got to squeezing and grating and was very happy with the result.
SIDE NOTE – the flavours of this recipe are also ridiculously recognisable and sensory in their island soul that they truly do have the capacity to vehicle you to the Caribbean without ever leaving your Kitchen. One of the things I stole from my mother’s house when I moved out years ago was a UB40 record – that despite being Birmingham bred! – have music deep rooted in Caribbean ambiance and was totally feeling myself to ‘Kingston Town’ while I made this sauce. I only encourage the same.
Grab a blender not a processor, you want this to be glossy and syrupy as opposed to chunky, and start adding your ingredients. Drop in some roughly chopped red onion – or spring onions (I needed to use up red, but I have a preference for red anyway) – along with a good shot glass of toasted sesame oil. Close the blender, press the button.
Now add some garlic cloves along with a small handful of coriander. Throw in some dry thyme too – which contain no oils like you would find in fresh thyme so if you have that, use it but dry is just fine. Add a shot of dark soy sauce followed by a roughly chopped chili. Keep the seeds in. Close up, bang the button.
Now add the juice and zest of half an orange before adding a slight pinch of all spice. Pour in a small dab of thick, dark molasses (or treacle, let’s be honest). Don’t be too enthusiastic with your treacle however as this really can change the body of your sauce and makes it tip toe from the border of a lightly aniseed punctuation, straight into a liquorice sauce. And nobody has time for that.
For the last time, close the blender and hit the button.
Now what I do is pour this into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, drop it to a simmer and allow to bubble for a while until it reduces down into a conquer shiny, varnish looking sauce. This is where I then just cook up some chicken or ribs in the oven and for the last 10-15 minutes, pour the sauce over and slide back in the oven. Don’t panic if it comes out charcoaled – its jerk, that’s how it’s supposed to look.
Like I said, this is absolutely not the recipe they use at Turtle Bay Cardiff but more of an inspired salute. Jerk sauce has the fantastic, full bodied smoke pit roundness to comfort the hungry yet the syrupy sweet and spicy tang to transport the island craving among us to somewhere fiery during the winter season. But this recipe is just for those of us who like to press buttons and stir things.
However, the Manager at Turtle Bay Cardiff gave us a fantastic demonstration of the jerk process which requires so many fantastic ingredients and is really cooked fresh for your serving with a fantastically innovative way of flavour layering as well as flavour preservation within the bird itself.
So while the jerk sauce I recommend here for you is also fantastic (in its own frugal, corner cutting way), for the days when you want a truly authentic Caribbean experience, I encourage you to try Turtle Bay Cardiff on St. Mary’s Street open now. The menu boasts offerings such as a jerk spiced Goat Burger (complete with Caribbean slaw AND sweet potato fries), a Caribbean Fish Curry (with snapper fish, coconut and mango!) and my personal favourite, the Jerk Ribs so let me know what you ordered in a comment on my Instagram and I’ll try and take your recommendation on my next visit!
Word to the wise (or weird, I haven’t worked it out yet) but don’t bother with cutlery if you are to order the ribs, like me. They’re a waste of time. Just dive in with your hands. Maybe that’s just the animal in me talking, but let it be so. If I’m having ribs, I want the jerk all over my face and fingertips. The Caribbean would want it that way and I am not one to disappoint.