Guava BBQ Ribs with rum marinade at Cuba Libre in Washington, D.C.
Have you ever cooked with rum? Forget for a minute about the booze-soaked cake you bake during the holidays or the ice-cream-topped bananas foster you flambé during Mardi Gras season. Think savory. Those same rich flavors of molasses, caramel and spice that rum gives to Tiki sips and stirred Old Fashioneds can add new dimensions to everything from pan-glazed pork to delicate seafood dishes.
The first rule of rum in the kitchen is picking the right bottle. “Aged and dark are ideal when cooking dishes with strong flavors such as beef stews or pork, while white rums are often used for cooking seafood or poultry,” says Angel Roque, the executive chef of Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in Washington, D.C.
Another rule: No matter the style, pick a high-quality brand, as cheap hooch will make dishes taste bitter. Sip some before dousing recipes or mix it into a cocktail set next to your mise en place. Vetting the bottle assures both quality control and a happy chef.
Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate rum into cuisine is using it to deglaze the pan after sautéing meat or fish. “Depending on the rum, you can get a stronger or lighter flavor after the alcohol is completely evaporated,” says Roque. For his Lobster Varadero, he marinates lobster tails with lime juice, salt and pepper, sautés them until golden, then deglazes the pan with white rum, whose clear hue will prevent the sauce from becoming cloudy.
Charcuterie platter at Cure (image: Adam Milliron)
Once the flame has been extinguished, he reduces criolla sauce (a South American sauce with sliced onions and accoutrements) with fish stock and white wine. Roque reaches for an aged rum for pan-seared pork tenderloin that has been rubbed with olive oil, cumin, oregano and garlic; the pan is deglazed with aged rum, flambéed and reduced with heavy cream.
But you don’t always have to burn off all (or any) of the alcohol. “I also use rum when sautéing dishes with short cooking times,” says Roque, noting that “all the flavors remain in the sauce and it gives a different and unexpected aroma.” If you want to use the spirit in a cold sauce or dressing, start with just a few drops until you get the flavor you’re looking for.
Of course, the complexity of an aged rum makes for a robust paste used to marinate pork or chicken. Roque’s recipe incorporates some of the notes inherent in the spirit (brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon) and others that are synergistic (ancho, cumin, coriander, jalapeños).
For a charcuterie platter at Cure in Pittsburgh, chef and owner Justin Severino cures a ham for six months with molasses, ginger and a rum from local distiller Maggie’s Farm before cold-smoking it with applewood. That’s probably a bit too ambitious for home cooks, but you could replicate something similar by searing a ham steak, then making a sauce by using the rendered fat to sauté chopped fresh ginger and garlic, deglazing the pan to release those delicious bits and adding molasses to taste.
Cinnamon French Toast at Kaya
“I love cooking with rum because there’s so much flavor to it … and each style can be used in a specific way,” says Nigel Jones, the chef and co-owner of the newly opened restaurant Kaya in San Francisco. Aged rum, he says, lends caramel notes to dishes, while white rums can give a pleasing alcohol bite, and spiced rum is a no-brainer for cakes.
“When you’re working with hearty proteins like short ribs or beef that you plan on stewing for a long time, you can treat rum just like you would wine,” he says. “The rum melds with the juices of the meat to develop incredible flavor.” And overproof rum is the secret weapon in Kaya’s ginger-butter sauce served over salmon.
When it comes to cooking with rum, you can’t completely eschew the sweet. At Kaya’s just-debuted weekend brunch, Jones serves a Caribbean-inspired Cinnamon French Toast topped with maple syrup infused with dark aged rum.
“At the end of the day, just be creative with it—don’t overthink or overdo it,” he says. “When you cook with rum, it ultimately serves you well as an accentuating element, not necessarily the focal point.”
Marinated pork is sautéed, and then the pan drippings are deglazed with rum before being cooked down with heavy cream. An aged spirit ramps up the dish’s spicy flavors.
12 oz pork tenderloin medallions
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
6 tbsp olive oil
6 oz aged rum
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Serves 2. In a small mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, cumin, oregano and garlic. Pour the mixture over pork medallions, toss to coat, and marinate for 20 minutes. Remove the pork from the marinade, season with salt, and sauté in a pan on medium heat until it turns brown. Flambé it with the rum, and reduce the sauce for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the heavy cream ,and cook slowly for 7 to 8 minutes. Serve pork with the sauce.
Rum Marinade by Roque
The ingredients in this marinade draw out the spice, caramel and citrus notes in an aged or dark rum. Even scaled down, this still makes a rather large batch; feel free to mix the dry ingredients separately and keep them in a container in your spice cabinet until ready to mix with the jalapeño and garlic. Or make the entire recipe and freeze it in plastic bags or containers so it’s ready for you to fire up the grill.
1/3 cups kosher salt
1/3 cups ground black pepper
1/3 cups ancho powder
1/3 cups whole cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/3 cups light brown sugar
1/3 cups whole coriander seed, toasted and ground
2 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
9 oz jalapeño peppers, minced
6 oz minced garlic
1 cup dark rum
Combine all the dry ingredients with jalapeño and garlic. Add the rum to the mixture to create a paste. Rub on chicken or pork, and let marinate overnight.