These days, rum goes way beyond a coconut- and pineapple-heavy cocktail on the beach. With its sugar cane-based flavor profile and wide variety of expressions, it’s a natural choice when pairing liquor with food. Whether in baking or savory food, shaken into a cocktail or poured neat alongside a dish, chefs across the country are incorporating rum of all kinds into their cooking.
Dark rum, with its richer flavor, is popular for baking, while white rum pairs nicely with citrus-forward flavor combinations. With so many regional rum variations — from Venezuelan to Pennsylvania-made versions — there’s a lot to love. We asked nine chefs from across the country to share with us their favorite unexpected pairings. Here’s what they came up with.
The Best Foods to Pair With Rum, According to Chefs
- Brown butter cake
- Rice pudding
- Tropical fruit desserts
- Glazed pork ribs
- Rum baba
- Beef brisket
- Pork shoulder
- Frituras (fried snacks)
- Rice and pernil (roast pork)
“Using rum within a dessert capacity is a great way to highlight a caramelized sugar flavor. Myers’s Dark Rum is my inexpensive, delicious go-to. Cook it into a caramel to spoon over vanilla ice cream for a no-frills dessert, or whip it into a lavish French buttercream to take your chocolate cake to the next level; extra points if a coffee infusion is involved. I love to take the fresh figs in early fall and braise them with Myers’s Rum, honey, allspice, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and a splash of orange juice to serve alongside a chèvre cheesecake. If you’re feeling extra fancy, El Dorado 12 Year is a great option for sweeter flavor that will truly bring out the richness of dark sugar. Cook it down into thick syrup with dark brown sugar, and use it as a sugar replacement for a peach pie in the summer or a bold chocolate pecan pie in the winter.” —Natalie Morales, pastry chef, The Kitchen American Bistro, Denver
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“Most people think of rum as the base for a tropical drink, or as part of a cocktail to start their meal, but I have actually found that rum can pair very well with dessert. Many of the same fruit-forward flavors that make festive rum drinks popular are present in desserts, so it is only natural that high-quality aged rums work well to complement the final course. One dish I have paired with rum is INNESS’ warm brown butter cake with caramelized pineapple, labneh ice cream, and fennel pollen. The warm, rich, and not-too-sweet flavors of the cake and pineapple pair perfectly with the spicy notes of the rum; and the cool, tart ice cream serves to cut off the heat from the alcohol. The fennel pollen then lingers with a floral note and fragrance. It might seem strange, but the formula works!” —Alex Napolitano, executive chef, INNESS, Accord, N.Y.
“At Butcher & Bee in Charleston, we love to use rum as a building block for nuanced flavor within our pastry creations. Our signature Carolina Gold Rice Pudding (made with Anson Mills) incorporates Goslings Black Seal Rum, which has rich flavors of sweet spices and vanilla that reduce into a deliciously creamy-tasting caramel sauce. Drizzled on top of a layer of rice custard and served with a neat pour of the Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum, this boozy dessert is a nod to our Southern roots and tastes like home.” —Jessica Olin, executive pastry chef, Butcher & Bee, Charleston, S.C.
“Since Simon Bolivar raised the flag of independence, Venezuela has been a leader in pioneering high-quality rums. In particular, I like to pair Venezuelan rum with tropical fruit desserts like coconut, mango, and passion fruit. It can be as simple as garnishing a fun fruit salad, to pairing a glass of quality rum with homemade passion fruit ganache macarons.” —Mile Montezuma, culinary director, IFood Group and Immigrant Food Restaurants, Washington, D.C.
“Rum with Cranes Yuzu/Soy glazed pork ribs — the yuzu and rum work well together, complementing the competing flavors that somehow jive with the citrus and acidity of the yuzu with the sweet and slightly caramel flavor of the rum.” —Pepe Moncayo, chef and partner, Cranes, Washington, D.C.
“I love rum baba — it’s a super-classic French dessert. We do a rum baba with olive oil cake instead of the traditional yeasted bread. It makes it really boozy, and we use an orange and lemon syrup. We use dark rum, and it just adds this caramelly note to the dessert that’s really warm and comforting.” —Amanda Shulman, chef and owner, Her Place Supper Club, Philadelphia
“One of my close friends and top bartenders in Philadelphia, Ethan Sherman of Southwark, would always make me a split base Smith & Cross Daiquiri with Maggie’s Farm Hidden Harbor white rum. I enjoy drinking local, and Maggie’s Farm from Pittsburgh is a great example of really fantastic rum in Pennsylvania. This Daiquiri is refreshing with high acidity and pairs really well with some of the fattier cuts of meat we are smoking at The Lucky Well, including the local feef brisket and smoked pork shoulder. It truly is an everyday cocktail.” —Steven Seibel, chef, The Lucky Well, Philadelphia
“Rum is an essential flavoring liquid in pastry paradise world. A variety of rums not only add a certain undertone of sweetness on the tongue from the cane but a specific olfactory scent that complements almost the entire spectrum of flavors used in pastry. We use a bunch of white- and Caribbean-styled rums in our dessert-making processes for extra flavor or that little something in that mousse you can’t quite identify.” —Chad Durkin, chef and owner, Small Oven Pastry Shop, Philadelphia
“I’m a big fan of Caribbean rums, which bring so much flavor to cocktails. I love a simple white rum and juice (pineapple, passion fruit, guava) and a dash of club soda with a salty snack. In Puerto Rico, a rum and passion fruit or a Piña Colada go so nicely with local salty “frituras” (fried snacks like pastelillos, relleno de papa, queso frito). For a traditional feel, I really do love a Coquito (holiday coconut and rum drink) with rice and pernil (roast pork). That is holiday nostalgia for me.” —Amaryllis Rivera-Nassar, chef, Amy’s Pastelillos, Philadelphia