My mother, sister and I were discussing the Christmas Eve menu a few weeks ago via email and my sister had a request. For pre-dinner appetizers, could we have rumaki? Sure! They’d long been a family favorite and I knew they’d be well received. Take a chicken liver, wrap that around a water chestnut and wrap that in bacon – delicious! I was more than happy to take that one on. There was one problem. As many times as I’ve made them, I’ve never really been happy with how they’ve turned out. They were always gobbled up but I always thought they were just ok. I knew they could be better. So just in time for your New Years Eve festivities, I’ve come up with a better rumaki.
Rumaki is a throw back, one of those old school appetizers from the ’70s that deserves to be back in the spotlight next to cheeseballs and olives wrapped in a cheddar dough. And maybe even jello molds. Mark my words, jello molds are coming back. My mother used to have elaborate Chinese dinner parties when I was a kid where rumaki was a staple appetizer along with sticky Chinese bbq ribs and the most fantastic eggrolls. I would often sneak a few off the platter when no one was looking. The thing is, for such a simple recipe, there are rules. There are three key and absolutely necessary elements to rumaki: bacon, water chestnut, chicken liver. Long ago, I was at a party and happily spied rumaki on the buffet table. One bite in and I was appalled. This wasn’t rumaki! A bacon wrapped water chestnut is NOT rumaki. There must be a chicken liver. It is an absolute must. Let’s get this right people.
For such a simple little bite, the recipe presents a few challenges. First off, they’re slippery little devils to assemble. Raw liver, raw bacon and a firm water chestnut do not particularly like to be skewered with a toothpick. The other problem is the bacon; by the time it’s crisp the livers are overcooked. So I solved both these problems by partically cooking the bacon first. It’s much easier to roll the suckers up and the headstart ensures the bacon is crispy but the livers are still a touch pink and tender in the end. It makes a big difference.
The other issue I had was the flavor. There had to be a way to make these things more delicious. I tried marinating the livers in all sorts of combinations and in the end, I settled on a simple mix of fresh ginger, a touch of soy and a bit of sriracha. I was onto something. But my best move by far was to treat the bacon like candied bacon and roll the little parcels in a spiced up brown sugar. The coating caramelizes in the oven to create the most delectable crust. This is really fantastic stuff. Make more than you think you need; they go fast.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SPEAR ONE ON. You need a few great appetizers in your back pocket to make the world right. In my mind, this is one. There’s something slightly mesmerizing about assembling these things and I find it a bit relaxing. I’ve had a long standing love for rumaki, harkening back to those Chinese dinner parties and we make this every few Christmases, including this year. A crunchy water chestnut, a creamy chicken liver all wrapped in crispy bacon, what’s not to love? I find these crazily addictive and have eaten them by the dozen while figuring out this recipe. It’s been a banner month for this girl.
Other great NYE appetizer ideas: Spicy Seeded Parmesan Straws, Cotija Cumin Shortbread, Quick Pickled Cherry Tomatoes, Parmesan Pea Dip, Crispy Prosciutto, Port Wine & Cheddar Cheese Log, Baked Brie with Savory Fig Jam, Seeded Crackers, Pimento Cheese Spread, Prosciutto Stuffed Figs, Herbed Fresh Goat Cheese (homemade goat cheese!), Baked Cheddar Olives, Southern Style Cheese Straws, Fresh Tomato Tart, Puff Pastry Asparagus Spears, Spiced Pecans, Bacon Cheddar Gougeres (cheese puffs), Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers, Bacon Wrapped Dates
Six years ago: Sunchoke Soup
Five years ago: Gingerbread with the Kids
Four years ago: Ginger Simple Syrup for Fancy NYE Cocktails
Three years ago: Gingerbread with Bourbon Sauce
Two years ago: Pumpkin Roulade
Last year: Scratch Rum Cake
Makes about 24 pieces; can be easily doubled
½ pound chicken livers, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sriracha
12 slices bacon, cut in half
12 whole water chestnuts, halved (one 8oz can should do)
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
pinch kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°
- In a small bowl, combine the trimmed chicken livers, soy, ginger and sriracha and let marinate while you cook the bacon.
- Line a sheet pan with foil and place a wire rack on top. Lay the bacon on the rack and bake for 15 minutes to partially cook and render some of the fat.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the brown sugar, ground ginger, cayenne and salt. Set aside until needed.
- Remove the bacon from the rack and place on a cutting board to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.
- Assemble the parcels: on a strip of bacon, place a piece of liver and a water chestnut half on one end, preferable the thin end of the bacon if there is one, and carefully roll into a nice tight parcel, taking care to keep the water chestnut centered.
- Skewer the parcel with a toothpick; it’s important to pierce the water chestnut and anchor the ends of the bacon with the toothpick. Continue assembling little parcels with the remaining ingredients.
- Roll the parcels in the brown sugar mixture, coating on all sides and patting gently to adhere.
- Place the rumaki on the prepared wire rack and bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven, turn the rumaki to brown the other side and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Do ahead: the parcels can be assembled through Step 7 up to 1 day ahead. Refrigerate until needed. Rumaki is best enjoyed right out of the oven but is still delicious at room temperature as the brown sugar creates the most delicious crust as they cool. I’ve also reheated leftovers the next day at 350°F for 10-15 minutes and found they were better when rerolled in the brown sugar mixture before baking.