Papaya-Marinated Grilled Chicken w/Fresh Papaya BBQ Sauce & Spiced Cashews {Gluten-free}

I love grilling.  And I love fresh tropical flavors.  So when I saw this masterpiece creation on the Today Show months back, I knew I’d be eating it in my future soon.  What really intrigued me was that all of the papaya is used… from seeds to flesh!  The seeds are used to tenderize the meat while the fruit is used for the sauce… what a great way to utilize nature!  I made a few modifications to make it a little more “me” (swapped the veggie oils for healthier fats and making it a step-by-step easy-to-follow version for simple cooks like me).  It requires some time, and it’s a long post I know, but it really is worth it :)

I chose to make the marinade the night before, let it sit overnight, and then create the sauce and do the grilling the following day.  If you want to get right to the cooking though (which I totally understand ’cause patience is not something I always have when it comes to eating!), let it sit for an hour or few and then get to the grilling.  The key really is the sauce.  The chef who created it, Roger Mooking (see his video and recipe HERE) came up with a goodie here!  First, the papaya seeds in the marinade act as a tenderizer for the chicken- amazing use of food, don’t ya think!?  Second, the fresh papaya fruit is sued to create the delicious papaya sauce.. it’s used as both the glaze during grilling and as a condiment on the side.  Roger calls it a BBQ sauce… I would almost lean towards chutney personally.  It’s tangy, sweet, and savory all in one… it would make a perfect dipping sauce for spring rolls (think I’ll make those next!)  This recipe makes a lot of sauce, so you’ll have some left over to use however you choose!

It’s all topped with the papaya sauce, fresh cilantro, and some spiced cashews.  Of course you could use any nut, but the cashews really do go quite well :)  They’re toasted and tossed in a pinch of paprika and salt, making them a super tasty addition.  But watch out, it’s hard to not eat them all before plating the chicken!

Served over rice, this makes a perfect meal to impress.  It’s light, healthy, and super creative!  And who knew papaya seeds could be so handy!?  Not only do the seeds contain papain, an enzyme that breaks down foods… hence it being used a tenderizer, but the seeds also can act as peppercorns when ground! Plus, they’re super healthy (as it papaya in general)… for more info, click HERE.

This makes quit a bit of papaya sauce and enough marinade for up to six breasts, so make 2 or 3 if you want, or make more to have as delicious leftovers!


for the marinade…

seeds of 1 large papaya

1 clove garlic (about 1 tsp minced)

zest and juice of 1 lime (about 1 tsp zest)

zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)

1/4 cup canned coconut cream (*see note below)

2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

chicken breasts, boneless/skinless

for the papaya BBQ sauce…

1 tablespoon oil- either coconut or olive

1 sweet onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)

3/4 cup sugar (if your papaya is extra sweet, use 1/2 cup)

1 Scotch bonnet pepper (use habanero, caribbean, or serrano as substitutions)

zest and juice of 2 limes (about 1 tsp)

zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 1/2 tsp)

1 cup water

1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

5 cups large diced papaya

1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste

for the spiced cashews…

1 teaspoon ghee or butter

1/2 cup unsalted cashews (I prefer raw)

Pinch paprika

Pinch salt


spiced cashew nuts, recipe above

fresh cilantro leaves

{serve over rice}

*a note about coconut cream: read the ingredients!  I bought some from a local health food store, thinking of course it was a good brand, and then saw that other ingredients were added.  Surprisingly, I found some at Trader Joe’s that was just pure coconut (who would’ve thought Trader’s had the legit version?!).  So read the labels and choose wisely!


Finley mince garlic and grate ginger

Remove the stems from the cilantro and then chop leaves

Zest/grate lemon and lime

Add garlic, ginger, cilantro, zest, and juice from lemon

and lime together in a large mixing bowl

Add coconut cream

Now for the papaya… of how I love papaya!

Slice that bad boy in half

Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds from both halves and add them to the marinade

If some flesh/fruit gets in there too, no biggie!

Scrape them as clean as you can… you’ll use the

remaining papaya for the papaya BBQ sauce

Here you’ve got your marinade!

Stir it all up well and ten add the chicken breasts, immersing them completely in the sauce

Place saran wrap or other covering on it and refrigerate… the longer the better!

I left mine in the fridge overnight and then continued with

the next steps the following day, but if you’re in a hurry, a few hours will likely do 😉

Now for the BBQ sauce!

Get that delicious papaya you’d clean earlier

Remove the skin completely, trying to waste as little fruit as possible

I find it easiest to cut little pieces at a time,

that way I don’t chop off too much fruit :)

Roughly chop the fruit… use all of it!

Okay okay, eat a couple if you must… and then get ready to make the sauce!

Here’s what you’ll need…

Chop onion

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat

Saute for about 5 minutes, until slightly translucent

Meanwhile, prepare pepper… remove seeds and

veins (unless you want it extra spicy!) and then quarter

Zest limes and lemon

After zesting, cut in half to prep for juicing

Once onions are fragrant and softened, add pepper, lemon and lime zest, and sugar

Stir and let cook until sugar dissolves

Add lemon juice, lime juice, water, and vinegar

Let sauce some to a boil

Add papaya and stir

You can add salt now as well, though I prefer to cook it first, taste,

and then add salt as needed… its always easy

to add more, but impossible to take it out!

Once it has all come to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer

for about 15-20 minutes, until papaya has softened

Remove the sauce from heat and let cool

To puree the sauce, you can either pour ingredients into a blender

or use an immersion hand blender to puree right in the pot

Blend until super smooth and creamy

At this point, I would recommend tasting it and then adding the salt-

you may decide you don’t want any, you may want a couple teaspoons!

Once nice and saucy, separate your sauce into two bowls-

one bowl will be the one that you use as a glaze

while the chicken barbecues, the other acts as a condiment

You don’t want to have it all tin the same bowl because as you brush sauce

on the chicken while it cooks, your brush will

contaminate the sauce with raw chicken… no bueno!!

So keep the sauce you want as a tasty condiment separate :)

Now for the cashews (you’re almost done!)

Heat ghee (or butter) in a  small pan over medium heat

Add cashews

Cook, shaking the pan periodically, until the cashews are lightly toasted and fragrant

Add a pinch of paprika and salt to the cashews and toss around to coat

Transfer to a small plate for serving

Get all of your garnishes together… and get your grill preheated and

oiled ‘casue you’re just about ready to barbecue and get eating!!

Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge

Stir the chicken breasts around to evenly coat in the sauce… when you grill,

you can leave the papaya seeds right on the breasts- they’ll cook off during grilling

Place breasts on preheated (and oiled) grill (you want a pretty high heat)

Baste the side facing up with papaya sauce

Flip breasts when you have some good grill marks going and

continue cooking the other side

(ideally, you will just flip once when barbecuing)

Keep basting every so often to coat them in that delicious sauce

When they’re done, plate and get ready to garnish!

(Discard the sauce you use to glaze and the marinade)

Serve over rice, white or brown…

Top with cashews, cilantro, and an extra drizzle of sauce (from the safe-sauce bowl)

Yep, looks good.  Enjoy!

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About Me

Hi, I'm Natalie! I like to cook, eat, and adventure. I live in a little home with an itty-bitty kitchen, a crazy feline, and a very hungry boyfriend. Lots of cooking and devouring goes down here. Farmer's markets inspire me, as do the seasons and travel. I create simple recipes using wholesome real food. Enjoy!

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