For me, the smell of sliced jalapeño peppers is inextricably linked to the spring of 1996. One evening, during the waning days of ninth grade, I had joined a small group of friends at the movie theater to catch a screening of Down Periscope. (Look, the first Mission: Impossible movie wasn’t out yet, so we were pretty hard up for national-security-related entertainment.) As magnificent as the on-screen pairing of Kelsey Grammar and Rob Schneider in a submarine promised to be, I certainly had not come for that cinematic gem. I’d shown up because it was my very first co-ed outing. There were BOYS there. Woooooo!
One boy in particular, a 15-year-old upon whom my friends and I fixated daily was in attendance, and he had a jones for some nachos that night. Being a popcorn-and-Junior-Mints girl, the concept of fast food in a movie theater was still a novelty to me, so when my crush brought his plate of nachos and cheese buried beneath a pile of jalapeños into the theater, the distinctive spicy aroma of the chopped peppers was all I could smell. It was intoxicating… He was sitting so close to me, and the fragrance of jalapeños mingled in the air with the scent of CK One and hormones.
So what does all that have to do with a chicken sandwich? Well, this particular sandwich is loaded with chopped jalapeños, and it was the magical portal through which my olfactory nerves whisked me back to that little Midwestern multiplex. At first whiff, I knew I was gonna enjoy this chicken sammich.
It’s a fact that McDonald’s isn’t exactly a place known for its spicy foods. It’s also a fact that in Southern California, it’s illegal to operate a dining establishment without jalapeños somewhere on the menu. I’m sure I read that somewhere. In general, McDonald’s is trying to break away from the norm and create truly unique flavor combos, and their Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken sandwich is the latest creation to make the regional rounds in California before (perhaps) breaking into other markets. I’m sure people in other states have the ability to appreciate jalapeños as much as we do… I mean, if jalapeños have been movie theater snacks for close to 20 years in the Great Plains then that should certainly be enough evidence. But here in Cali, we’re ride or die homies with our peppers 4 life, and McDonald’s knows we don’t play.
My first hint that McDonald’s is really serious about their new jam was the wrapper. Stamped there, in bold, red font is the name of the sandwich, and the accompanying sketch of a pair of jalapeños shows McDonald’s means business. Upon unwrapping it, I quickly discovered that this sandwich is just like a regular McChicken sandwich, except in place of mayonnaise they’ve added a generous portion of jalapeño sauce and a thick slice of white cheddar cheese. The jalapeño sauce contains actual chopped jalapeños, which provide a good amount of heat to each bite, and the melted white cheddar (while not exactly bold) is smooth and not waxy. When combined with the umami of the seasoned, crispy breaded chicken patty, the flavor profile is complex and delicious … Not at all how I would describe most sandwiches from fast food joints, let alone McDonald’s.
As for the serious jalapeño commitment indicated by the wrapper, I’d characterize the jalapeño sauce’s level of spiciness as “lip spicy” more than anything. It didn’t exactly threaten to liquefy my insides (something for which I’m grateful, since my Teflon esophagus and cast-iron stomach are both on back-order through SkyMall), but it was sufficiently zesty. I think the jalapeños themselves were probably pickled, but I could barely taste the tartness beyond the kisser-searing wall of spice. The cheese was really the only downside. I’d say it was closer to American cheese than cheddar, and there was no flavor to speak of, despite the warm, melty texture. Just like that memorable night at the movies seated beside the JNCO-clad object of my adolescent affection, the cheese didn’t really amount to much. (I think he didn’t like any of us.)
It’s comforting to know that for about a buck fifty, I can revisit the past, and this time, Frasier, Deuce Bigalow, and a janky-ass submarine are nowhere in sight.
(Nutrition Facts – 1 sandwich – 360 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 1220 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.)
Item: McDonald’s Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken Sandwich
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Lip spicy. The aroma of jalapeño slices. Sky Mall. Cartoon jalapeños show they mean business. Mission: Impossible. Seasoned, crispy, breaded chicken patty provides nice touch of umami. Movie-going in mixed company. Tasty and cheap. Ride or Die.
Cons: Not available everywhere in the US-of-A yet. The cheese was bland and didn’t really taste like cheddar. Kelsey Grammar and Rob Schneider. The amount of spice doesn’t represent real business. JNCOs.