Tuesday, November 10, 2015


     Rumaki is an old recipe from the mid 1900's.  Polynesian Food reached a peak in popularity in America during the post WWII era and items like Rumaki became a household name.  Rumaki is considered by many to be one of the greatest cocktail party hors d'oeuvres of them all!  

    Victor Bergeron was better known as Trader Vic!  Victor Bergeron operated a Polynesian theme bar and restaurant called Trader Vic's in Oakland, California.  Many food historians credit Victor Bergeron as being the creator of both the Mai Tai Cocktail and Rumaki.

     I remember how adults in the 1960's were kind of infatuated with fantasies of life in the South Pacific Islands.  The musical screenplay "South Pacific" had a lot to do with why ordinary middle class Americans took interest Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures.  
     I was just a kid in Southern California back in those days, but I do remember the name "Trader Vic" being tossed around while adults played bartender during Saturday night cocktail parties.  Maybe it was because Rumaki or because tropical drinks were being served.  All that matters is that Trader Vic was famous long before he marketed his own food products, rum and his own restaurant chain.  Trader Vic was a cultural icon of sorts, who rode the big Polynesian wave to success.      

     How, where and when Rumaki was invented is still kind of a mystery, but most agree that Rumaki was created in the 1940's.  Whether Trader Vic really created Rumaki is questionable, because the recipe is so simple.  Considering that nearly every Asian culture has a culinary history that dates back several thousand years, more than likely somebody in Asia made Rumaki long before Trader Vic rowed his boat ashore.  
     Regardless, in the 1960's anything that was remotely connected to the Trader Vic name generated spellbound romanticism, because of his association with Polynesian culture.  Trader Vic certainly helped Rumaki to become a famous hors d'oeuvre.  All I can say is more power to good old Trader Vic for getting mainstream America to eat plenty of chicken livers while drinking exotic cocktails out of carved pineapple cups!  

     Rumaki is still served occasionally at country clubs and yacht clubs that feature menus of food from the good old days.  Rumaki is still occasionally offered as a hand passed hors d'oeuvre at high society cocktail parties.  Other than at a Trader Vic's franchise, finding Rumaki on an average bar menu in this modern age is nearly an impossible dream.  
     A person can go all year without thinking of Rumaki, then out of the blue, Rumaki comes to mind when planning a New Years Eve cocktail party.  Rumaki definitely is high on the list of traditional New Years hors d'oeuvres!  

     There are a few cooking methods to choose from when making Rumaki.  Some are better than others.  Deep frying Rumaki till the bacon is crisp is okay, but the bacon will turn out chewy.  Oven roasting the Rumaki till the bacon is crisp, creates a better flavor and texture. 
     How the brown sugar teriyaki sauce is applied does make a difference too.  Some cooks pour the teriyaki sauce over the Rumaki, then slow roast the Rumaki till the sauce saturates the bacon.  This method produces limp soggy Rumaki that have a dark brown color.
     Crisp Rumaki with plenty of teriyaki flavor is what most people prefer.  This can only be accomplished by placing the roasted crisp Rumaki on a wire screen roasting rack in a roasting pan, then lightly saucing the Rumaki, before reheating it for a very short time at a high temperature.  This method was used to make today's Rumaki recipe.  

     I am sure that many readers have lived through nightmarish experiences with bad Rumaki at New Years Eve parties in the past.  When the hors d'oeuvres tray is passed, the wary train of thought goes something like, "I have to eat this ill prepared Rumaki just to be socially polite and I know that I will probably get sick to my stomach before the ball drops at midnight.  Oh well! ... Gulp!" 
     The thought of eating bad Rumaki has plagued New Years Eve cocktail party goers ever since the 1940's.  All it takes is eating spoiled chicken livers once, to remember the ill effects for a lifetime.     
     Rumaki gained a such a reputation for being an "eat at your own risk" food item, that chefs and home cooks went as far as to leave chicken livers out of the recipe.  Rumaki that is made without chicken livers is not Rumaki!  
     To avoid the risk of pathogen contamination and spoilage of Rumaki at cocktail parties, it is best to follow these National Restaurant Association Servsafe food handling rules: 
     • The minimum temperature for cooking chicken is an internal temperature of 165ºF for 15 seconds.  
     • The minimum temperature for reheating food for hot service is an internal temperature of 165ºF for 15 seconds within 2 hours of preparation.
     • The minimum holding temperature for hot food (like in a chafing dish) is 135ºF.  
     • The maximum time limit for ready to eat food held at room temperature is less than 4 hours.  All ready to eat food that has been sitting at room temperature for 4 hours must be discarded.  
     • All time & temperature information pertaining to food items for catered events should be logged on a chart for ease of reference.

     A home cook or host that follows the certified safe food handler rules can minimize the risk of bad food experiences at their own cocktail party.  As a cocktail party guest, never feel obligated to eat suspect food, especially if the food was prepared in a risky manner.  Understanding safe food handler rules can definitely be an asset for self preservation.  

     Teriyaki Sauce for Rumaki:
     This recipe yields enough sauce for about 15 to 20 rumaki.
     A little bit of sauce goes a long way, when keeping the goal of serving rumaki that are not soggy!
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of water.
     Add 1/4 cup of thin soy sauce.
     Add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar.
     Step 2:  Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin syrup consistency.  (The sauce should very lightly glaze a spoon.)  
     Remove the sauce from the heat and set it aside.

     One bite size piece of chicken liver, one water chestnut wedge and one half of a bacon strip is needed for each rumaki.  Make as many as you wish to make!  The sauce is easy to make and the recipe can be expanded for any amount of Rumaki.
     Step 1:  Cut several strips of smoked bacon in half.  (1/2 strip of bacon per rumaki)
     Step 2:  Cut small bite size wedges of water chestnut.  (1 water chestnut wedge per rumaki.  Canned whole water chestnuts are best for this recipe.)
     Step 3:  Cut bite size pieces of chicken liver that are about the size of a grape.  (1 piece of chicken liver per rumaki)
     Step 4:   *The next few steps describe assembling 1 rumaki.  
     Lay half of a smoked bacon strip on a cutting board.
     Place a bite size chicken liver piece on the bacon.
     Place a small water chestnut wedge on the chicken liver.
     Wrap the bacon tightly around the chicken liver and water chestnut.
     Pierce toothpick skewer through all three ingredients, so the rumaki does not unravel.  
     Step 5:  Place each rumaki on a wire screen roasting rack on a roasting pan.
     Roast the rumaki in a 325ºF oven, till the bacon is crisp and the chicken liver is fully cooked.
     Step 6:  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a stove top.
     Lightly brush the rumaki with the basting sauce two times.
     Step 7:  Reheat the rumaki in a 350ºF oven, till the center temperature of the rumaki is 165ºF for 15 seconds.
     Step 8:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Lightly baste the rumaki with the sauce one more time before serving.
     Step 9:  Use tongs to place the rumaki on a serving platter or place the rumaki in a 135ºF chafing dish.  

     Viola!  Crisp Rumaki that is not soggy or saturated with sauce! 

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