My favourite dish: Michelle Miah
Chef Michelle Miah chats to Tony Naylor about her Jamaican heritage and her favourite dish, brown stew chicken.
We celebrate the world’s best comfort food by asking chefs and food writers from diverse backgrounds about the dishes they love. Here, Michelle Miah, co-owner of Rudie’s Jerk Shack in Brixton, shares her recipe for a classic Jamaican one-pot.
"My mum was all about Jamaica. She loved her heritage and made sure we did, too," recalls Michelle Miah, co-owner of street-food brand Rudie’s Jerk Shack. "The first time I went there, I felt I’d become complete as a young person. I’m black-British, but these are my roots – in family, culture and food."
When Michelle met her now-husband, Matin, she recalls, "It was important that he understood what Jamaica meant to me." They took numerous road trips around the island, often planned around legendary food spots to give him a taste of the real Jamaica.
For years, that foodie exploration informed their parties back in London: "Matin really can cook and, as a family, we’re known for throwing dinner parties and big cook-ups." But, in 2015, their long-held ambition to launch a restaurant (Michelle also works in fashion and design), resulted in the first Rudie’s.
Known for its 24-hour jerk-marinated meats cooked over charcoal, there are now six Rudie’s outlets, including its flagship Brixton restaurant. Other Caribbean restaurants might serve dishes from across the islands, but, as Michelle puts it: "Our niche is that we’re not shy about saying we’re traditionally Jamaican food."
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"My mum’s from Kingston and my dad’s from Portland in Jamaica. Mum came to the UK in the 1950s and eventually moved to Catford, where I grew up as the youngest of four sisters. Dad was a self- employed carpenter and mum a senior carer for the elderly. She worked nights to look after us in the day. It was hard going. She had to be organised. I’d come home from school, pots would be on and by early evening a meal would be ready and the table set. We all ate together every evening. I do that with my girls now and make sure it’s family time. By seven o’clock, she’d be off to work. We were well looked after.
"You couldn’t go to my mum’s or aunties’ houses and not be hungry. There was always food, they fed everyone. That’s who they were. Mum’s answer to everything with us and her grandchildren was: 'they’re hungry'. We’d probably just fed our children, but we’d turn up at hers, they’d look forlorn and she’d say, 'their brain is starved, they need to be fed'.
"We’d have toad-in-the-hole and shepherd’s pie and traditional Jamaican food. As the youngest, I got into the kitchen by asking questions. I was curious. I can cook rice and peas, yams, cornmeal porridge and brown stew chicken because I watched Mum. She would marinate the chicken on Saturday and cook it Sunday. It would smell great and there’d be music playing. She loved listening to reggae while she cooked. You can imagine how nice that was.
"These ways of cooking have been passed down the generations. My nan lived in Stockwell in a house that was a hub for people – for those that had been invited over to work – it was a place to stay until they found their feet. My nan cooked amazing lamb neck stew and rum cakes. She’d soak the fruit for months in Jamaican Red Label wine (similar to port) and Wray & Nephew overproof rum. It was so rich!
"One of my cousins used to make the same recipe. She’s passed away now, but her sister carries on the tradition, so we still get delicious cakes from that same recipe. Mum also got all the grandchildren involved in cooking and baking. I have nieces who cook brilliantly, having learned from her.
"My mum’s speciality was fish. My aunties and Mum all worked in care homes or nursing, but, as a side-hustle, they’d cater for weddings, funerals and birthdays. Mum’s input was fried fish covered in a lovely pickle of carrots, onions and sweet peppers; batches of salt cod fritters and the most amazing red snapper. Sadly, Mum passed away in 2019, but, this Easter, one of my nieces made the snapper exactly how Mum would. She felt she needed to because it was something we traditionally have at Easter. That was really nice."
Try our other Caribbean recipes.