Saturday, June 19, 2010

Marcus Samuelsson's lesson on rum and mango mojitos

Marcus Samuelsson's mango mojito by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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.

Crucian Gold charm bracelet by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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 the sugar. 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 were it was traded for more slaves. The Triangle trade - molasses, rum, humans, molasses, rum, humans.

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 Two winner, celebrity chef and all-around nice guy Marcus Samuelsson.

marcus grin
Marcus Samuelsson by Pedro Soto/Foodie Atlanta

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, 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.)
mango mint rum w/charm
Marcus Samuelsson's Mango Mojito by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Marcus’ Mango Mojito
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 - (due to deadlines, I haven’t tested this recipe beyond the two-day mark). 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.

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.

mango mint sorbet
Mango and lime sorbet by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Sugar Mill Mango Mint Mojito Sorbet

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 - I use a Krups with a freezable container.

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

3 to 4 mangoes to yield 2 cups cut fruit, saving the mango bones

2 teaspoons lime juice from ½ lime

3 or 4 mint leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon rum extract

1. 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 and rum extract and let cool. After at least 15 minutes, strain through a sieve and pour in 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.

Text and Images © 2010, Lucy Mercer, with the exception of the picture of Marcus Samuelsson, which is provided by Pedro Soto of Foodie Atlanta.

Check out Brian Bishop’s spectacular jewelry at Crucian Gold.

If you visit St. Croix today, be sure to spend a morning at the restored working sugar plantation, the Whim Great House, complete with a working windmill/sugar mill.

marcus & Lucy
Marcus Samuelsson and Lucy Mercer by Susan Loper.
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Susan said...

Wonderful post! It all sounds delicious, and I love the advice about the mango bone.

Would you believe I was out feeding the fish when you called and didn't see your message till midnight? D'oh!

Anonymous said...

Lucy, Thanks again for coming out to Marcus' event at North Point Mall! It was such a pleasure to meet you there and to read the wonderful posts you wrote both here and on Examiner! ~ Lauren T