My mother and I moved to the city of Miami, FL when I was fifteen. I had no friends there and a pretty hard time adjusting to living in a rough part of a really big city.
I passed time randomly walking into stores and restaurants that had signs I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t used to being surrounded by so many different cultures and languages. If I smelled something delicious, I‘d take my chances.
Sometimes I wondered if I had just walked into a Haitian mafia meeting place or Columbian gambling ring. That excitement was part of the fun though. Restaurant Russian roulette. Would I get something delicious to eat or get shot and have my body dumped in the Everglades for gator chow?
One little strip mall consisted of a Cuban bodega, an Israeli halal butcher, a Nigerian grocery, a Puerto Rican barbershop, a comic book shop, and a Jamaican hole-in-the-wall café. Geography class gone wild!
I went from the comic shop to my very first Jamaican food experience. I was greeted by overwhelming spices, soap operas blasting on the corner TV and a short elderly woman lounging in a recliner.
“Well, if you eatin’ you better sit down.” I half smiled and sat at one the little rickety tables. She begrudgingly got up and shuffled to my table. “Well, what you going to eat?” I had no menu and no clue of what my choices were. “What should I eat?” She smirked a little and headed off to the kitchen.
She brought me amazing spicy Jamaican beef patties (spiced meat turnovers), juicy jerked chicken with coconut pigeon peas and rice, and probably one of the hottest salsas I’ve ever had. So damn good. That little no-name café became my go-to lunch place.
Sadly, the last time I visited Miami the café was no longer there. But I can make jerk chicken and watch All My Children re-runs at home. And so can you!
Jamaican Jerked Chicken Sandwiches
(Spicy Pickapeppa Mayo)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp pickapeppa sauce (use worchestershire sauce if you can’t find it)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tsp habenero hot sauce
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp dried thyme
3 cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 Scotch bonnet peppers, seeds removed (or use any spicy chili you can find)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
(For the Jerk Chicken Sandwiches)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded out to 1/2” thickness
4 dense sandwich rolls
4 large lettuce leaves (I like romaine or red leaf)
2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 lb Beecher’s No Woman Jamaican style cheese, sliced (pepper jack will work)
1 red onion, sliced thinly
For the mayo, combine all of the mayo ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
For the jerk marinade, put all of the jerk ingredients in a blender and puree until combined. It will be chunky. You can add a little water to help it puree better if you need to.
Marinate the chicken breasts in the jerk marinade for at least 3-4 hours (overnight is the best).
Get your outdoor grill hot or set a grill pan over medium high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Lightly oil the grill/pan with peanut oil. Grill the chicken for 3 minutes each side (or until done -165F). Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest.
To assemble the sandwiches: Slice the bread in half and grill it cut side down for 1 minute. Slather the mayo on both slices of bread. Place a chicken breast on the bottom piece of bread. Then a few slices of cheese, a few thin slices of red onion, the lettuce, then a few slices of tomato. Top the sandwich with the top part of the bun and scarf.
Serve with some curried potato salad or potato chips. Also, if you don’t want sandwiches you can serve the grilled jerked chicken as is with pigeon peas and rice. Yum! xoxo