Tropical Citrus Marinade: Or How I Learned To Cook With Fruit

Fish and bar shack on a Maui beach

It was a ramshackle pile of boards, corrugated plastic roofing, and the liquor was cheap and nasty.  Yet out back, they had a grill fashioned out of an old deformed boat hull whose flames were fed by dried coconut skins and palm fronds.  They served three things:  alcohol, fish marinated in fruit juice, and chicken also marinated and basted with the same fruit concoction.  This was how I learned that you can actually cook savory meat things (or savory soy-based things for our vegetarian readers) in a fruit based semi-liquid puree, and the result is amazing.

Thirst and Hunger Strike Simultaneously, But First, A Whale

Kayaking in the channel between Maui and Lanai, I had just almost had my watercraft upended by a passing humpback whale.  20 minutes earlier, paddling along, looking out at the islands, contemplating lord-knows-what,  the water beneath me turned from a placid clear azure to a dark gray.  Suddenly waves rocked my little plastic kayak, and I found myself steadying the boat with my paddle to keep from tipping over.  Off to my left, a spectral, small (only about a couple feet long) gray spiny fleshy thing briefly emerged out of the water.  I looked down to see an awesome dark oblong shape directly underneath me.  It extended 20 feet in front of me, and 20 feet behind.

Without warning, water splashed the back of my neck.  I turned around to see a great black fishtail of immense proportions to my rear, which subsequently smacked down onto the water, raising a great plume.  In front of me I saw the shape that had previously been underneath me shoot forward, slow down, then gently rise up and the mouth and jaw of a humpback crested out of the water.  It only lasted a second before it went back down to descend and keep swimming forward.  I stared in awe, then, recollecting myself, took account of my surrounding and looked down into the depths beneath my kayak.  What I saw was at least 10 or more of the same gray shapes moving languidly under me.  All heading in the same direction as their apparent leader, but, and forgive me here, I panicked.  I sunk my paddle into the water and headed back to shore as fast as I could.  I guess a childhood of reading Herman Melville, and endless listening to Leviathan made me want to get on shore with a quickness.  So I coasted into shore on the surf, and what did I find?

A bar and fish shack on the beach.

And not only was I completely unnerved, but also parched, and starved.  Perfect!

I sat down on a stool dappled with tropical sun leaking through the plastic and thatch roof, ordered a “Honu” (that’s a Hawaiian beer named after the native sea turtles) and took account of my surroundings.  To my right was the ultimate picture of a Hawaiian surfer dude, board leaning against the bar stool. picking up some dripping piece of food and going to town on it like it was nobody’s but his business.  To my left was a 50-something guy in a diving skin-suit doing the exact same thing.  I inquired to the bartender, as I was all nerves and empty stomach, “What’s on the menu?’

“Chicken or fish”

“Well, can I have both?  I’ve just been paddling a kayak for the last 6 hours on the open water.”

“Well, great for you, guy.  They’re $5 each”


“So what do want?”


Unfortunately, my order took over an hour to get back to me.  I don’t know if it was because I was a tourist and maybe the bartender was waiting until I got fed up and left, so that he wouldn’t have to actually serve me, but I stuck it out.  And after a few more Honus, I’d managed to covey that I wasn’t going anywhere.

Anyways, eventually I was presented with two plates.  One had a large slab of grilled tropical fish bathed in an orange saucy glaze, dotted with pearlescent bits of papaya, pineapple, and mango.  The other had a grilled chicken breast coated in the same sauce.  As at this point I was not only starving from physical exertion, but I had a few beers in my belly that needed to be contended with.  The delicious mixture of Hawaiian raised chicken, and fish caught out of the ocean that lay 40 feet behind me was like a hammer to the head.

The first thing that I could sputter out to the bartender was

“What’s in this?!?!?”

“You ordered the fish and the chicken, right?”

“Well, yeah..”

“So you got fish and chicken.  You finished with your beer?”

“No, I mean, well, give me another beer (sigh from bartender), but what is this stuff on top of it?”

“Ah, you can ask the guy that makes it.  I just make drinks.”

“Oh, please.  I’d like to.” (Another sigh…)

Out from the back comes a guy who looks really tired.  He walks up to the bar, and says “Is there something wrong?”

“Ah, no, something is definitely right!”

He’s confused.

“I just want to know what you put on top of the meat.”

“Oh it’s easy.  You can even do it back on the mainland.” (yeah, he’s figured me out already).

“You just take whatever tropical fruit juice you can find, chop up whatever tropical fruits are in that season, and soak the meat in it with some acid, like, lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar…it’s easy.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Okay, um, thanks…”

“No prob.  You need anything else?”

“Not unless you’ve got a recipe handy.”

“I just gave you the recipe.”

“Oh, right, well..thanks!”


Taking It Back To The Title Of This Post

And so as it happened, 2CINTK were in Maine at one of the Cook’s parent’s house for Thanksgiving.  After all that turkey, we wanted to liven things up a little bit, and clear our palates of all that heavy stuffing/gravy/mashed potato residue that had been sitting around in our guts for the past few days.  Time to bust out the perfect citrus marinade, and throw some chicken and fish on the grill.  And also to not let them know that my native Hawaiian friend Pohaku earlier decided to call these “Fruit Punch Chicken Tits”.


Juice of:
1 lime
1 lemon
1 orange

Then dice these guys finely:

4 cloves garlic
1/4 onion
chunk of ginger to taste (about 1″)
salt and pepper to taste

Also add if you want:

Sweet red chili sauce

Garlic chili sauce

Fish sauce (Nom Pla, Thai or Vietnamese for fermented salty shrimp sauce)

Another thing you can add to this is guava paste, which is available in many NY bodegas, although it usually has added sugar, so keep that in mind so that your marinade doesn’t turn into a sugary syrup, or at least, adjust the acid content accordingly.

Guava Paste

Fruit chunks:

In the end, you should have 1 part protein to 1/3 part fruit.  So figure the math out for yourself, and if you can get them, my suggestion is to go with any combination of the following:



Passion Fruit (this will really add some excitingly dark and sweet/bitter chunks)


And if you’re really feeling fancy, you can pick anything from the following poster.  Most are hard to get on the East Coast of the US, but if you can find a Japanese store that sells fresh fruit, you have a better shot of finding what’s on here.  This may seem an odd situation, but read this to find out the reasons.

Combine all your fruits, savories, and juices, then marinate the chicken over night in the mixture if possible.  If using fish, only give it about an hour or the acid will turn the flesh mushy.  As the meat grills, periodically baste it with the marinade.

When the weather outside is frightful, you could make this most delightful meal in the middle of winter to remind yourself that the entire globe isn’t underneath a sheet of ice as you might be.  You can still get the aforementioned ingredients and make the sauce/marinade.  At which point you can get some chicken breasts and/or fish (Trader Joe’s always has great frozen mahi mahi and tuna) and replicate this recipe out of a pan.  First you take the marinade recipe I’ve given and cook it up in a pan:

Tropical Marinade Ingredients

Mango Juice

Tropical Marinade in the Pan

Set is aside, then take your chicken or fish and sear it on all sides.  Here we have some January fresh frozen from Trader Joe’s Mahi Mahi.

Mahi Mahi

Next. we sear that in the pan, and pour the marinade on top of it in the pan:

Marinade and Mahi Bubbling Away

We served it with rice an fava bean stew tonight.

Mahi With Sauce, Rice, and Fava Beans

Dreading the doldrums of winter?  Want to spice things up in your life and remember that it’s not so cold everywhere else?  Then try “Tropical Citrus Marinade” and be rid of your winter blues.  “–By Mennen/ Hassan”–“

About 2cooksinthekitchen

Two cooks, one from Bushwick and a passionate meat-eater, one from Sunset Park and a former vegan, and both NYC transplants, set out to share original recipes that can be made dairy free and vegan deserts; showcase culinary resources in the outer boroughs (and sometimes Manhattan) where one can find unique, specific and fairly priced ingredients; and participate wholeheartedly in the many cultures of cooking and eating that make up New York City.
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1 Response to Tropical Citrus Marinade: Or How I Learned To Cook With Fruit

  1. Pingback: Follow this Foodie: Eleanor Whitney of 2 Cooks in the Kitchen and Corita | Eating the Beats

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