Iron Chef Michael Symon Has a Suggestion: Cook With More Rum
We spoke with the "Burgers, Brew & ‘Que" host about about bringing the sweet spirit into the kitchen
Rum. It’s what’s for dinner. At least that’s the case if you are dining with Iron Chef and Burgers, Brew & ‘Que host Michael Symon, who will be sharing recipes for food and cocktails throughout the year as part of a new partnership with Diplomático Rum.
Symon, who stocks the family-owned rum brand in both his restaurants and his home bar, first learned about incorporating wine and spirits into dishes when he was in culinary school.
“Once you learned those basic lessons, you could pick different flavor profiles you liked. A good example would be making chicken Marsala, a classic dish a lot of people enjoy, using rum instead of wine,” Symon tells InsideHook. “Once you understand how the spirits are getting used in that dish, you can go for different notes with rum instead of Marsala. You’re going to get some sweetness, some pops of citrus and some of those toffee undertones, which are delicious with chicken. That’s a classic dish that gets my mind thinking in that manner.”
That’s the kind of thinking Symon encourages people to use when they step into the kitchen.
“People should think outside the box a little bit when they’re cooking and have fun. Spirits can add some backbone to a lot of dishes,” he says. “Maybe rum isn’t the first ingredient to come to mind when people are thinking about a dish, but it really can highlight and act on a dish in a very big way. The thing I love about the rum is it brings natural sweetness and doesn’t feel forced. You get a bit of that sugar cane flavor in there with light vanilla and some fruitiness. You’re not trying to achieve some of those flavors by forcing it with random ingredients. It’s a very natural connector to a lot of foods and dishes. I think it pairs up really nice with smoked meats, chicken and ham.”
So, how would Symon use rum if it was introduced as the secret ingredient on Iron Chef?
“I would probably start out using it in something like ceviche or another raw-style seafood dish. and work it in with some citrus and some really bright herbs like fresh basil or tarragon,” he says. “I’d build a pasta for the next course and use it to deglaze a pan. You’d get some of those toffee flavors. If you’re doing a boar Bolognese or something of that nature, that would work really nice. Then maybe I’d do a whole roasted Mojito-marinated chicken as an entree. You could do a million different things for dessert. I’d maybe make a chocolate crème caramel and make the caramel with the Diplomático.”
Making a barbecue glaze using rum on Iron Chef might also might be a winning move.
“I think it works beautifully as a glaze on a pork butt or a smoked ham,” he says. “Or, if you want to make a sweet, sticky Kansas City-style barbecue sauce where you have the smoky meat, it works really beautifully. You can reduce some citrus and orange and things into it too. I also think it works if you’re developing a sauce where you’re doing some reduction, like in a classic French sauce where they do a reduction of wine and different herbs and then finish it with a touch of butter. In place of wine, you could use Diplomático. You’d develop all the flavors from the rum and they’d intensify as there’s that slight reduction. They’d get smoothed out on the finish.”
But, as with most things, don’t forget that sometimes less can be more, according to Symon.
“It’s about balance. You don’t want to use a gallon of rum and a teaspoon of something else. As you’re using rum for the first time, start with a little, taste it and decide if it needs a little bit more. Build it up from there,” he says. “I make everything by tasting as I go, but you never want one ingredient to overpower everything, With any dish, you don’t want to just taste one thing. You want there to be a nuance of flavors throughout it. If I’m using rum as a glaze and I taste it and all I taste is rum, I have to tamp it back a little bit. But, there are worse things. If you’re using habanero peppers and you put in way too much, you’re in trouble. If you put in a little bit too much rum, life’s still pretty good. Just taste as you go.”
And don’t forget to taste the rum on its own or in a cocktail at a healthy ratio as compared to sampling the food. “Minimally four to one,” Symon says. “It depends if it’s Sunday or Tuesday.”
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