This past Saturday, I stopped by the Advance Auto Parts store on New Hampshire Avenue, near the D.C. border, to purchase a new headlight for the old Global Warming Machine. I asked the clerk if there were any good places to eat in the area, and he directed me to the Junction International Market & Jerk Centerin Chillum, about a mile away, where he said they make a killer curried chicken and oxtail stew.
But when I arrived at the Jamaican-theme carry-out at 900 Chillum Road, I asked the guy at the counter whether they bake or grill their jerk chicken. When he said the latter, I knew I had to try the dish, since so many other joints bake their jerked birds (Young & Hungry, “Jerked Around,” 7/7/06). I ordered a quarter bird with rice and beans, a beef patty, and coco bread. When I flipped open the Styrofoam clamshell that concealed my chicken, I discovered a gorgeous collection of grilled parts drizzled with the darkest, pepper-flecked sauce I’d ever seen.
They tasted even better than they looked. Some of the thicker breast pieces were slightly dry, but the wings and thighs were moist, charred, sweet, and hot enough to keep me reaching for my bottle of ginger beer. It was the sweetness that sealed the deal for me; it balanced out the distinguishing characteristic of jerk chicken—-its flame-throwing heat—-and provided a depth of flavor typically missing from such many one-dimensional dishes.
I asked the counter man what the source of the sweetness was. I wondered aloud if it were molasses, given the color of the sauce. Naturally enough, he wasn’t so forthcoming with details; he did confess to the addition of brown sugar, which satisfied me for the moment. But as I was walking out of Junction International Market, I noticed a small bottle of “browning sauce” on the shelves next to the Jamaican breads. The liquid was as dark as the tip of a burned match. I read the label and noticed that browning sauce is made with caramel.
As I left Junction, completely content with my new go-to place for jerk chicken, I asked the counter man if the sauce included browning. Bingo!