James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi stops by the kitchen TODAY to share two of his favorite Jamaican recipes from his cookbook “My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef.” He shows us how to make spicy jerk chicken then chill it with braised cabbage and carrots.
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My dad, whose mom was Jamaican and whose dad was Nigerian, used to take me to Little Jamaica in the Bronx for dinner. We were sitting by the side of the road, with an open container of jerk chicken. Although I was a boy, I felt like an adult next to him, a man with a burning mouth. Jerk chicken is spicy by nature. What was once a surreptitious method of preparing food by Jamaican maroons has become Jamaica’s greatest contribution to the culinary canon: a tapestry of flavors, aromatics and spices.
In Little Jamaica, these come to life in jerk shacks, grocery stores and bakeries with freshly made beef patties and coconut bread. Little Jamaica will always be my real Jamaica. So much so, in fact, that when I finally got to the island, I remember thinking it looked like a bigger version of the Bronx. And when I got the jerk there, I was immediately transported to those hot New York nights with my dad.
Cabbage is often steamed in Jamaica and served with oxtail, jerk chicken, or rice and peas. It works as a cooling element counterbalanced by spicier foods.
Personally, I’ve always found steamed cabbage bland. So, to give it flavor, I braise it in coconut milk, I add the acidity of the citrus fruits and a punch of ginger-garlic puree, then I whip the vegetables with a good dose of butter, a trick drawn French kitchens. The result is a soothing, creamy yet light side dish that can withstand harsh jerk flavors and not be overshadowed.
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Tyler Essary / TODAY