Tue Aug 2, 2011
Ugh. Summer is supposed to be cold and virus free, but I've found myself battling a minor sinus infection all July just to have it take a turn for the worst last week. I'm now left with a clogged nose and annoying cough that triggers a general malaise and strips the general joy of eating right out of me. With a loss of smell and appetite, I can easily slip into an indifference to what I'm consuming, but in these times, I try to find the few things that can continue liven up my taste buds and provide some sense of excitement to otherwise dreary days. Nothing fits this billing better than spicy foods—which has the extra benefit of temporarily clearing the sinuses—and these jerk pork skewers made with fiery habaneros is just what the doctor ordered.*
*That and Mucinex
I've probably exalted my love for habaneros previously, but it's worth restating how great these little balls of heat can be. It's not so much the heat that has me gushing—although for heat seekers, these are in a top tier—but the fact that they pack a punch while retaining a very distinct fruity quality. So much hot is hot for the sake of hot, but habaneros posses a fruity freshness that comes through the burn, making these a favorite choice in the pepper kingdom for me.
That fruity heat is a strong defining factor in a jerk marinade, but by no means the end-all, be-all of flavor. Quite the opposite, jerk combines such a mixture of strong players that I often have a hard time describing the end result other than by its namesake, "jerk." Scallions, cilantro, garlic, ginger, sugar, lime and allspice all enter the mix with the habaneros to make a sauce that's incredibly complex and at the same time surprisingly harmonious.
With all the great flavors of the marinade, the best choices of meat to let that shine through is the commonplace chicken or pork. For these skewers I used a 3-pound pork loin that was cubed and then marinated in the jerk sauce for a few hours.
While the pork marinated, I made this dipped sauce that was part of the original recipe from Weber's Way to Grill. Now I'm not one that likes to cover my heat—no blue cheese sauce with my wings, thank you—but the mixture sour cream, lime, and honey sounded like a nice compliment to the jerk pork, so I went ahead and whipped up the quick dip.
All skewered up, the pork was ready for the grill. I usually like to brine my chicken or pork skewer meat to avoid them drying out over the high heat, but I took a gamble here without a brine and had no problems whatsoever. In only took about 6 minutes for the pork to brown and cook through, and I pulled them as soon as I was sure they were done to prevent overcooking.
As I mentioned, I have a hard time describing the exact flavor of jerk, but I can say that these are perfect for my current sickness. A blast of heat opens the sinuses and lets in a clear taste of all that's great about jerk—fruity heat, earthy spice, and fresh herbs. I'll personally skip the dipping sauce while suffering a sinus infection, but at other times, that honey-lime sauce is quite fitting and nice to have for those who need to balance out the heat of habanero a bit.
Jerk Pork Skewers
Adapted from Weber's Way to Grill by Jamie Purviance
For the Jerk paste
2 habanero peppers, seeded
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions, white and green parts, lightly chopped
6 medium cloves garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use
For the sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place all of the ingredients for the paste in the jar of a blender and blend until smooth. Place pork chunks in large Ziploc bag and pour in the paste, seal and toss to evenly distribute; open and reseal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. While the charcoal is lighting, thread the pork chunks onto the skewers.
4. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the skewers on the grill and cook until the meat is cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes, turning three or four times during grilling. Serve immediately with the honey-lime sauce.