Henry James’ Rum Runner Chicken
It is difficult for me to think of Cuba without associating it with some of the best rum in the world and tales of rum runner Henry James. The stories told say his ships sailed the East Coast of the United States from Florida to New Jersey with barrels and bottles of Cuban rum. Purportedly he was a compatriot of Habana Joe, one of the most notable New Jersey rum runners. The tales grew through the years, as tales do, until he gained almost mystical status and mysteriously disappeared by the late 1920s; although many believed he simply sailed to the Bahamas and lived out his days. I have yet to determined if he was man or myth but rum distillers love to spin a good tale.
These tales inspired the creation of Henry James’ Rum Runner Chicken. Marinated and finished in a rich rum sauce, Malecón Finishing Sauce, I believe Henry James would have relished sitting down to a plate of this rum infused dish while sipping on a glass of Havana Club 15 Year Rum.
Using a smaller, organic chicken is preferred since the meat seems better able to stay tender and moist during the high heat cooking. Begin by cutting out the backbone, splitting and flattening. Use the Malecón Finishing Sauce to marinade for 3-4 hours to provide the initial Flavor Tier. Cooked on the cooktop, it does require a heavy duty pan or cast iron skillet. Intense heat is needed to achieve the crispy skin before finishing in a high heat oven to cook the meat to 165° and a regular skillet simply will not withstand the heat without scarring the pan.
The sauce combines dark rum, mint and lime with Cuban Sofrito, a base made from green peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and black pepper. Blood orange juice, less sweet than a navel orange, provides a citric flavor without causing the sauce to turn overly sweet. A regular orange may be substituted if you must, but it is worth the effort to locate blood oranges to achieve a perfect balance of sweet and savory.
As for the rum used in the sauce, please, if you are lucky enough to have a bottle of Havana Club 15 Year Rum pour yourself a glass, add one cube of ice and sip while preparing dinner. For cooking this dish, a dark rum, such as Myers’s Original Dark Rum, has the perfect mildly sweet, caramel like flavor which compliments the Sofito perfectly.
That bag of chicken gizzards and livers found inside the whole chicken, do not throw it away. Not to be missed is the final Flavor Tier made by simply chopping and doing a sauté of the gizzard and liver with onions plus a bit of sauce. It takes each bite of this dish to a higher level of intensity.
Begin the “Flavors of Cuba” dinner with Abor City Cuban Sandwich Cups and Baracoa Christopher’s Avocado Onion Salad with Mango. Serve Trinidad Lime Glazed Sweet Potatoes along with the chicken and finish with Southwest 8th Street Arroz Con Leche.
An all female vocalist line up consisting of some of the best Cuban performers including Ester Borja, Heila Mompie and Maria Teresa Vera. Turn up the volume and enjoy the beat on this one!
1 whole chicken, organic, keep the gizzards and livers
Malecón Finishing Sauce, doubled
4 T unsalted butter.
3 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
Rinse chicken, removing bag from inside, and pat dry. Place on a cutting board. With kitchen shears, cut down one side of the backbone. Open the chicken and cut down the other side of the backbone and remove. Spread the chicken and flatten slightly. Using a sharp knife cut the chicken in half through the breast. Place each chicken half in to a re-sealable plastic bag.
Pour 1 cup of the Malecón Finishing Sauce into each bag. Seal bags and place in refrigerator for at least 3 and up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 450°.
Remove chicken halves from the plastic bags. Pat dry. Discard the bags and marinade. Heat grill pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once butter has melted and is sizzling, add one chicken half, skin side up. Cook for 7-10 minutes, turn skin side down and cook an additional 7-10 minutes until a skin is crispy and heavily browned. Using tongs, sear edges of chicken by holding with tongs and pressing against the pan. Take care not to tear the skin.
Place chicken into a roast pan. Add the remaining butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Repeat process with remaining chicken half. Place second chicken half into roast pan. Create a foil tent and place over roast pan. Do not seal or the steam will soften the skin. Place meat thermometer into thickest part of chicken and place roast pan into oven. Cook until temperature reaches 160°. Remove from oven. Keep tented and leave thermometer in the chicken. It will continue to cook after removed. Once it reaches 165° uncover and remove thermometer.
Place chicken on a cutting board. Cut each half into several large chunks to allow serving a combination of white and dark meat on each plate.
While chicken is in the oven, rinse gizzard and liver and trim. Place on a cutting board and chop into small chunks. Place small skillet over medium high heat; add remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Once oil is hot, add onion slices. Sauté onion until soft and browned; remove from pan and place in small bowl. Place chopped gizzards and livers in the skillet. Sauté until browned and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes; add onions back to skillet. Pour ½ cup of the Malecón Finishing Sauce, into the skillet. Continue to cook over high heat until the sauce has reduced by half. Scrape contents into small bowl.
Pour remaining Malecón Finishing Sauce into the same skillet. Cook over medium high heat until reduced by half. Pour into a small bowl.
Divide the chunks of chicken, both white and dark meat, on each serving plate. Evenly distribute the onion mixture between the plates. Drizzle with the sauce reduction.
Stay true to Henry James, enjoy a glass of excellent rum over a bit of ice. Havana Club 15 Year if you are lucky enough to have a bottle, but Santa Teresa 1796 is a wonderful option especially for fans of rye whiskey. Start with a single cube of ice and then adjust to your liking
For those wishing a lighter cocktail, serve a Jose Marti Canchánchara. Considered the grandfather of the mojito and daiquiri, it is a simple drink consisting of simple ingredients – rum, lime and honey water.
This dinner does call for a white wine bold enough to hold up to the rum sauce but light enough to compliment the chicken. Merry Edwards 2015 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc provides the perfect balance of flavor textures.
For those red wine drinkers, a Pinot Noir harmonizes well with the rum chicken flavors. Try Vincent Girardin Corton Bressandes 2009.
While the meat is poultry, the sauce is rum based and dark. Try serving a bock style beer such as Shiner Bock. It is a rich, full-flavored beer without any bitterness.
If you are looking for bold, with this rum coffee sauced chicken, try Cigar City Brewing’s Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale. With the flavors of coffee, caramel and toffee, it holds up well to the sauce.
Ybor City Cuban Sandwich Cups All the flavorful ingredients of a delicious Ybor City Cuban sandwich compacted into small bread cups – salami, roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese with an under layer of mustard.
Baracoa Christopher’s Avocado Onion Salad with Mango Fresh, light and easily prepared, this is a take on a traditional Cuban salad with the addition of mint to provide a fantastic flavor counter to the lime juice based dressing.
Southwest 8th Street Arroz Con Leche
Creamy with a fantastic blend of lemon and cinnamon; this dessert is inspired by a traditional Cuban rice pudding. The perfect finish to a Cuban inspired dinner.
Trinidad Lime Glazed Sweet Potatoes Sweet with a tang of citrus and pan grilled to perfection!