According to the New York Times, it’s not ice cream and watermelon that accompany the Labor Day cookout, but rather wistfulness and melancholy—as if igniting the grill on this early September Monday simultaneously blows out the eternal flame of easy summer living. This is ridiculous, notes Sam Sifton, as you can ignite a grill any day of the year. But, I get it. Everyone wants to wallow in self-pity because summer is ending, playtime is over, back to the grind, yada yada. Throw on that grill cover (appropriately dressed in black) with a quiet, choking “see you next June” and you’re slowly walking away from sunshine, pools, beaches, shorts, happiness. Well, let me tell you what will help you get over grieving this so-called propane-fueled funeral. A brand new, super exciting, Labor Day kebab marinade! Yes, these Jerk Chicken and Tofu Kebabs are guaranteed to lift your spirits—after all, they did originate in the Caribbean, home of summer year round! (Which, you can always visit, you know. And like, not to make this about me, but some of us aren’t even allowed to have a grill.) So let’s abandon the grill noir, fire up that propane-powered bad boy (or oven—works just as well here!) and make some kick-ass kebabs.
In addition to being super tasty, a new grill marinade also has to harness the unique, because nobody wants to read another “1000 marinades that will make your summer” list. (Spoiler: over half will be some type of teriyaki.) Enter the jerk. In the same way that Jamaican jerk seasoning has been molded and modified over hundreds of years as different cultures add influence, this marinade pulls from a bunch of recipes you’ve seen before—but transforms them into a totally novel rub. Yes, there is the soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger from ever-present teriyaki. But there’s also scotch bonnet peppers and Jamaican allspice—distinctive to the jerk—and orange and lime juice and zest, which rings almost Southwestern. Plus a whole bunch of other ingredients that will leave you breathless once you’ve rattled off the entire list, yet be met with pleasant surprise when you realize that all ingredients, save the peppers, are pantry items—you likely already have them in your kitchen.
Snaps to this recipe for eliminating the chopping board by calling to be made in the blender; the biggest effort you’ll make (before kebab-assembling) is pressing “blend” with your finger. I’m not going to lie, when the liquefying was finished, the marinade boasted the exact color of a mud puddle. But a quick lick established it was going to taste phenomenal, and in the oven it yielded a beautiful, caramelized bronze—on the grill, that perfect, signature blackened char.
Since we are celebrating (not mourning) summer; take this opportunity to stuff your skewers with as many late-summer seasonal vegetables as possible. From the farmers market, I loaded up with yellow squash, multi colored peppers, and onions. The tangy, peppery bursting-with-flavor jerk marinade coats the vegetables beautifully: a piquant pop to the earthy produce.
The author of this recipe recommends serving the kebabs with coconut rice; I concocted a turmeric-laced yellow. Whichever flare you go with, choose rice for your accompanying grain—it soaks up the jerk drippings from the kebabs beautifully.
One small note: if you use bamboo rather than metal skewers, make sure to soak in water for a few hours before cooking. This prevents the wood from burning when it meets the heat.
Jerk Chicken and Tofu Kebabs (adapted slightly from Food52)
For the jerk seasoning and sauce:
1 scotch bonnet pepper, chopped (remove seeds for less intense heat)
2 jalapeño, chopped (remove the seeds for less intense heat)
1 tbsp fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp whole Jamaican allspice (can substitute regular ground allspice)
2 ½ tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp powdered ginger
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup soy sauce
Zest of 1 lime
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup apple cider vinegar
For the kebabs:
2 lbs chicken and/or extra firm tofu*, cut into chunks
2 lbs assorted vegetables such as yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, and onions
*To prepare tofu, remove entire block from package and wrap in two layers of paper towel. Microwave for 2 minutes to remove excess moisture. Cut into ~1 x 2 inch rectangles.
1. Make the jerk sauce and seasoning. Chop scotch bonnet and jalapeño peppers, removing seeds if desired. If using Jamaican allspice, smash in a mortar. Add peppers, allspice, and remaining seasoning/sauce ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Add chicken and/or tofu to a large zip lock with enough jerk sauce to completely cover them. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (overnight preferred.)
3. When the chicken and/or tofu has fully marinated, assemble the kebabs. Chop desired vegetables into uniform pieces (~1 x 2 inch). Alternate stringing 2 vegetables for every 1 piece of chicken/tofu on the kebab, keeping ½ inch of space in between each ingredient to ensure even cooking. Baste generously with reserve jerk sauce.
4. Prepare to cook. For the grill: when grill is hot, brush with oil and cook kebabs for 3 minutes on each side. For the oven: preheat to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with olive oil or cooking spray. Cook for 20-25 minutes, rotating kebabs 10 minutes in.