James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi is stopping by the TODAY kitchen 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 and then cool it down with braised cabbage and carrots.
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My father, whose mother was Jamaican and whose father was Nigerian, used to bring me to Little Jamaica in the Bronx for dinner. We'd sit by the side of the road, with an open container of jerk chicken. Though I was a boy, I felt like a grown man, next to him, a man with a mouth on fire. Jerk chicken is spicy by nature. What was once a method of preparing food surreptitiously 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 alive in jerk shacks, in grocery stores and in bakeries with freshly made beef patties and coco bread. Little Jamaica will always be my true Jamaica. So much so, in fact, that when I finally did go to the island, I remember thinking it just seemed like a bigger version of the Bronx. And when I had the jerk there, I was immediately transported back to those hot New York nights with my dad.
Cabbage is often steamed in Jamaica and served alongside oxtail, jerk chicken or rice and peas. It functions as a counterbalancing cooling element to spicier food.
I personally have always found steamed cabbage to be bland. So, to give it some flavor, I braise it in coconut milk, add the acidity of citrus and a punch of ginger-garlic purée, then mount the vegetables with a good amount of butter, a trick lifted from French culinary kitchens. The result is a soothing, creamy-but-light accompaniment that can stand its own against the aggressive flavors of jerk and not be overshadowed.
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