Wherein I meet Marcus Samuelsson and pick up a recipe -- and a history lesson -- of rum
This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge — in which we asked readers to share their favorite rum recipes — comes to us courtesy of Lucy Mercer. We haven’t had a chance to try these recipes out yet — though they are from a master chef — and we’d love to hear about it if you do!
On my wrist, I wear a golden reminder of the brutal past of slavery in the Caribbean. It’s a charm of a sugar mill, a common sight in St. Croix, now in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the charm was crafted by Brian Bishop, an artisan creating jewelry in Christiansted. Bishop makes the mills accurate as they exist today — mostly abandoned, metal parts rusted or gone entirely, with trees growing through the doorless entries.
The sugar mills are from the time when the Virgin Islands were a stop on the slave trade, the Triangle Trade, as it was known. The Dutch who settled the islands in the 17th century enslaved Africans who were brought to the islands to plant and process sugar cane. The sugar, usually in the form of molasses or sugar cane juice, was then taken to the American colonies, usually Boston, to be distilled into rum. The rum in turn was loaded onto ships and sent to Africa where it was traded for more slaves. The Triangle Trade — molasses, rum, people, molasses, rum, people.
When contemplating rum, as with many foods, the modern interpretation is vastly different from the historical truth. Rum today is the essence of the tourist-dependent Caribbean — a fruity, umbrella’d cocktail on a sun-bleached beach beside the deep blue sea. A good book, a comfy chair, a cooling drink, and hours spent trying to find the horizon, the place where cerulean sky and azure sea meet. Rum, with its sharp acetone fragrance, is made for fruit, especially the tropical bounty of the Caribbean — pineapple, mango and coconut distract you from the kick.
I suppose I could open up a copy of Mr. Boston’s to come up with a recipe to spotlight rum, but in this case, I decided to consult a master, “Top Chef Masters” Season 2 winner, celebrity chef and all-around nice guy Marcus Samuelsson.
That’s right, cutie-pie competitor Marcus Samuelsson, he of the engaging grin and fierce competitive streak, not to mention spiffy candy-apple red Chuck Taylors, showcased on the most recent season of the reality show that pits seasoned chefs mano a mano in food challenges. Samuelsson bested a field of 16 big-name chefs, coming out on top with a three-course meal that described his culinary journey across three continents.
When I asked Marcus about rum drinks, he said immediately, “Well, do you know about rum and Barbados and the slave trade?” Samuelsson has a duality that’s apparent once you know his intriguing biography. Born Kassaham Tsegie in Ethiopia 39 years ago, he lost his mother at age 3 in a tuberculosis outbreak, was then adopted by parents in Sweden, and his identity changed with one airplane flight — he became Marcus Samuelsson. He found his art at his Swedish grandmother’s apron strings while learning to cook meatballs with lingonberry sauce and other comfort foods, then went on to apprentice at fine European restaurants and eventually emigrated to this country 20 years ago.
What a curious gift to see in a bottle of rum the duality of your ancestry, biological and adopted — the enslaved and the enslaver. To identify with the Africans who were forcefully taken from their homes and families to work in harsh conditions half a world away, and at the same time the Europeans who traded humans for molasses and rum. I want someday to ask Marcus more about this, but today he just had time for a recipe — dark rum (he insisted it must be dark rum), infused with mango, muddled with mint, strained and poured over ice. I’m not one to argue with the chef, especially the one who beat Susur Lee for the Top Chef Master title. (And the drink is delicious.)
Marcus’ mango mojito
- 3 cups cubed mango (from about 4 medium-to-large fruits)
- Dark rum
- Mint leaves
- In a large measuring bowl, place three cups of cubed mango from about 3 or 4 fruits. Fill to 4-cup mark with dark rum (I used Cruzan Rum). Chill overnight or for several days.
- When ready to serve, pull out your favorite highball glass, muddle some mint leaves in the bottom, fill with ice, strain infused mango rum over all, and garnish with mint.
Sugar mill mango mint mojito sorbet
In Marcus’ trademark “why do, when you can overdo” spirit (after all, his fried chicken recipe takes three days, my friends, three days to reproduce to his exacting standards), I created a Caribbean mango sorbet using the flavors of his prescribed drink. I kept it kid-friendly, using rum extract, but there’s no reason that if you’re feeding grown-ups, you couldn’t use rum-infused mango chunks from the above drink, folding them into the sorbet while it is still soft.
We call the pit the “mango bone” in our house; it’s a favorite treat of my youngest daughter. When you cut up the fruit, save the mango bones and simmer them in the syrup to intensify the mango flavor. You will need an ice cream mixer for this recipe.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups cubed mango (from 3 to 4 fruits), puréed, saving the mango bones
- 2 teaspoons lime juice from 1/2 lime
- 3 or 4 mint leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon rum extract (for alcohol-free version) or rum
- In a saucepan over moderate heat, place sugar, water and mango bones. Let come to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.
- Remove from heat, add lime juice, mint leaves, puréed mango and rum extract and let cool. After at least 15 minutes, strain through a sieve and pour into container of ice cream machine. Follow manufacturer’s instructions from here. Store leftovers, those precious leftovers, in the freezer. Trust me, they won’t last long.
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