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Monterey County Herald

Winter Warm-Up; A Menu With One Or A Few Rum-Based Recipes Can Heat Up A Gathering


29 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 Monterey County Herald. All rights reserved.

When we're feeling a chill from real frost rather than frosty drinks -- or from wading through real snow rather than snowy white sand -- the time is right for a taste of the tropics.

Sure, your friends may need to check their boots at the door rather than their sandals at the seashore (as I was lucky enough to do this fall at a memorable beach party in San Juan, Puerto Rico). But even in the depths of winter, a menu with one or a few rum-based recipes can heat up a gathering.

"Obviously, rum has a natural affinity for anything sweet. But it can really play a role in savory dishes as well," says Dana Holland, the owner of Blu Dog Catering and co-owner of Holland Mills, which produces sauces, rubs and other seasoning products. Holland honed his Caribbean cuisine as chef/owner of the late, lamented Babalu, a restaurant in the Central West End.

When cooking, you can reach for rum instead of all but the driest sherry.

"I do it all the time," he says. "There's a distinctive difference."

Holland suggests stirring rum together with coffee, ginger, garlic and a little honey, then using the mixture as a glaze for flank steak or pork roast. Or splash in rum instead of wine to deglaze a pan after sautéing pork or chicken.

"Even if the dish is not inherently sweet, the rum will bring a little bit of sweetness," he says.

Holland's take on pineapple boats is popular with his catering customers. He makes a sugar syrup with whole cinnamon sticks, star anise and cardamom seeds, adds a bit of anejo (aged) rum, then folds in chunks of fruit. The fruit macerates in the syrup, picking up sweet and spicy flavors. Before serving, he piles it into hollowed-out pineapple halves.

For savory spirits, we're offering recipes that showcase rum in onion soup, shiitake-pearl onion salad, black beans and rice and chicken with papaya.

For sweet endings, our recipes will show you how to enjoy rum in banana bread packed with chocolate and dried fruit and in a five-ingredient toffee sauce that's an easy way to elevate ice cream or simple cakes.

Holland finds that inexpensive, amber-colored rum usually works best in his recipes.

"When I really want to play up rum's flavor, I use the anejo," he says.

Rum is sold in a spectrum of colors, from clear (called white or silver), to gold or dark, to black. Flavored rums can feature the flavors of fruits or spices. They're most useful in mixed drinks, although they can have a place in desserts or fruity dishes.

Rum is distilled from sugar cane or molasses. Generally, the lighter the rum, the stronger and less complex the flavor. For everyday cooking, Holland recommends amber-colored rum.

The best aged rums can be sipped like cognac, often at a lower price. "There's a lot of really good aged rum out there, and they're fairly affordable," Holland says. "If you want a really nice aged scotch, like Johnny Walker Blue, you've got to go out and borrow money." Fine-wine stores usually carry a nice selection of rum.

He sees rum increasing in popularity, perhaps because good tequila has become more scarce and correspondingly more expensive, perhaps because rum appeals to twentysomethings with a sweet tooth.

"Rum appeals to younger people; it's a happy thing," he says. "You think of the Caribbean."

Drunken chicken with papaya

(Yield: 6 to 8 servings)|

2 tsp. grated lime zest (colored portion of peel), plus more for optional garnish

1Ú2 cup fresh lime juice

2 tsp. grated orange zest

1Ú2 cup fresh orange juice

1/3 cup amber or dark rum

4 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or minced

2 T. distilled white vinegar

21Ú2 T. light-brown sugar

41Ú2 lbs. chicken drumsticks and thighs, rinsed and patted dry


Freshly ground black pepper

11Ú2 T. olive oil

1 small papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

Steps: To prepare the marinade, combine lime zest, lime juice, orange zest, orange juice, rum, garlic, vinegar and sugar in a blender; process until smooth.

Prick the chicken all over with the tines of a fork; rub generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a large glass or ceramic bowl; add the marinade and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Return to room temperature just before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken in a large roasting pan, reserving the marinade. Brush the chicken with oil; bake until the skin begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees; bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven; add the papaya and the reserved marinade. Return to the oven and bake, basting with the marinade, until the chicken is almost falling off the bone, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter; spoon the papaya and sauce over the chicken. Garnish with a sprinkling of lime zest.

-- Adapted from "Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality," by Anya von Bremzen (Doubleday, 1997).

|Shiitake and pearl onion salad|

|(Yield: 8 servings)|

10 oz. fresh pearl onions

1Ú4 cup olive oil

6 T. (3Ú4 stick) butter

3Ú4 lb. shiitake mushroom caps (without stems; see tester's note)

1Ú4 cup sherry vinegar

1Ú4 cup amber rum


Cracked black pepper

6 to 8 cups mixed greens, divided

4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled, divided

Steps: Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add onions; let boil 3 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Snip the ends of each onion and slip off the peels. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet until almost smoking; add the butter. When butter melts, add the mushrooms; sauté until they brown around the edges. Add onions; cook until lightly browned. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan; pour in the vinegar and rum. Cook, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to release the browned bits, until the liquid comes to a boil and reduces to a glaze. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly.

To serve, cover individual salad plates with salad greens, using 3Ú4 to 1 cup per serving. Spoon mushroom mixture over the lettuce; top each serving with 1Ú2 ounce crumbled goat cheese.

Tester's note: Shiitakes were in short supply at the market, so I used a 3 1Ú2-ounce package of whole shiitakes plus an 8-ounce package of sliced baby portobellos.

-- Adapted from a recipe developed by Wilo Benet for the rums of Puerto Rico.

|Warm rum-toffee sauce|

|(Yield: 11Ú2 cups)|

3Ú4 cup plus 2 T. packed light-brown sugar

6 T. heavy cream

1Ú2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1Ú2 tsp. vanilla

3 T. amber or dark rum

Steps: Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy saucepan; place over medium heat. Boil until thick and well blended, about 3 minutes. Serve warm. (Leftover sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week. Reheat in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat.)

-- Adapted from "Miami Spice," by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 1993).

|Banana bread man's banana bread|

|(Yield: 1 loaf cake; 10 servings)|

1/3 cup pecans

1/3 cup cashews

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1Ú2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 1Ú2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 T. amber or dark rum

2 cups mashed ripe banana (4 to 5 medium bananas)

11Ú2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1Ú4 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg

1Ú4 tsp. ground cloves

3 T. buttermilk

21Ú2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or 1Ú2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup pitted dates, chopped (see tester's note)

1/3 cup dried cherries (see tester's note)

1/3 cup diced dried papaya (see tester's note)

Steps: Toast the pecans and then the cashews in a dry skillet, stirring frequently until they begin to darken and turn fragrant. Immediately transfer to a small bowl; let cool, then chop coarsely. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 1Ú2-by-4 1Ú2-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean; add the seeds to the bowl (or add the extract). Add the rum, bananas, cinnamon, mace and cloves; beat until blended. (The batter may look as if it is separating; this is normal.)

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beating until fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate, nuts, dates, cherries and papaya.

Spoon the batter into the pan; bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees; bake until the bread pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 70 minutes longer.

Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert the loaf onto the rack, then turn right side up to cool completely. Slice and serve, plain or toasted and topped with ice cream.

Tester's note: I substituted 2/3 cup already chopped dates and 2/3 cup mixed dried cherries and golden raisins for the whole dates, cherries and papaya.

-- Adapted from "New World Kitchen," by Norman Van Aken (Ecco, 2003).

|Onion soup|

|(Yield: 5 quarts (10 servings))|

3Ú4 cup (1 1Ú2 sticks) butter

4 lbs. onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

1Ú4 cup truffle honey (see note)

2 cups amber or dark rum

12 cups strong beef broth

Salt, optional

Ground black pepper

Fresh minced parsley, for optional garnish

Steps: Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add onions; cover and cook over low heat for 50 minutes, then remove the lid and cook until they begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the honey, then the rum. Let simmer until most of the alcohol evaporates, about 20 minutes. Add beef broth; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls; garnish with parsley.

Note: We found white truffle honey at Whole Foods Market.

-- Adapted from a recipe developed by Wilo Benet for the rums of Puerto Rico.

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