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Miss Lily's Jerk Marinades

The chef behind NYC's beloved Jamaican restaurant shares her cooking stories and secret ingredients

by Lauren Espeseth
on 16 September 2013
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The beloved Caribbean oasis in New York City's NoHo, Miss Lily's, recently released a trio of their treasured Jamaican barbecue sauces and marinades—each made with all-natural ingredients including habanero chilies, brown sugar, scallions, cumin, ginger and more.

These new sauces are meant to be used from the beginning of a dish to the very end—they serve as excellent marinades and rubs for all kind of meats, seafood and veggies before they hit the grill, and make for equally mouthwatering sauces to add once everything's cooked. Be warned: They have a kick. The Jerk Marinade is the most tame of the three, but to call it mild would be an incredible misnomer. Because the marinade is slightly less spicy than the Jerk BBQ and Rass Hot sauces, it's easier—and quite exciting—to decipher the vast array of ingredients and spices that went into its making.

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The trio of sauces was developed by Miss Lily's own culinary mastermind Suzanne Couch. Drawing from her roots as a Jamaican chef and caterer, Couch has cooked professionally with sauces like these for over 30 years. Starting in her backyard with a bike-powered, coal-fired rotisserie BBQ that her mother had built, she was invested from day one. In the '70s, when the mother-daughter duo moved stateside, they perfected their wet marinade that is now the heart and soul of each sauce. CH got a chance to ask the chef about her sauces and secret ingredients during her visit back home to Jamaica.

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So, how often are you back and forth between NYC and Jamaica?

At a minimum, quarterly. More regularly for special projects, production, etc.

How involved are you with Miss Lily's these days?

I'm in touch with the restaurant all the time and visit regularly to help with seasonal adjustments, development of new "daily specials," training and special events. I also come up to supervise the sauce production and new product development. We are just now launching Miss Lily's Chips—which come in Jerk, Jerk BBQ and Jamaican Curry flavors.

Do you have a go-to secret ingredient?

Absolutely: Scotch Bonnet peppers. Also what we call pimento (or allspice) and thyme.

You've been cooking for decades; is there one cooking experience that stands out to you most?

I would say the excitement of traveling to the south of France for a Jamaican party that Paul Allen was having—he asked me to do the jerk chicken. I've also catered for Princess Ann, here in Jamaica, on one of her official visits. There are many more—I’ve been catering for 33 years!

What was your favorite thing to eat growing up? Has it changed?

It hasn't changed—I still love the food from my childhood. Brown stew chicken and rice and peas are some of my favorite dishes, and curry too. All must have lots of pepper!

What makes Jamaican-style cuisine unique?

Love! And spice. Our food always has pimento, thyme and Scotch Bonnet peppers—exactly what the basis of jerk is made from.

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Miss Lily's restaurant is famous for its hip, friendly staff, eccentric vibe and jamming soundtrack—but what keeps the customers coming are the flavors. The Jerk Marinade, Jerk BBQ Sauce and Rass Hot Jerk BBQ Sauce are sold as a three-pack from Miss Lily's online for $21, and are also for sale from a handful of NYC retailers including Dean & Deluca, Fairway, Gourmet Garage, Zabar's and Eli's.

Studio images by Lauren Espeseth, portrait and Miss Lily's images courtesy of Miss Lily's

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