This week I'm writing about a recent break that I took to a wonderful rum distillery in Guyana. What with my tequila mission to Mexico last year, as well as quite a few wine trips abroad, it's true that many of my excursions are based around alcohol, but I justify them by telling myself that having a full understanding of all the types of alcohol in the world is an integral part of my job – at least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
I was very lucky to be travelling with James Shelbourne and Stuart Ekins from Inspirit, who import fine spirits from around the world and who are fantastically knowledgeable about all sorts of drinks.
Rum is usually associated with Jamaica, Barbados and Cuba; so Guyana wasn't the first place that came to mind. We visited the Demerara Distillers in Georgetown, where I tried the finest rum I have ever tasted.
They have been distilling the stuff there for three and a half centuries for the local community as well as imports to England. Demerara Distillers is the only rum distillers using wooden pot stills, which not only look beautiful but also give its El Dorado rum its unique flavour.
Mr Robinson's liming punch
Nick Strangeway knocked this up in Guyana and named it after master distiller George Robinson. We visited the local market for provisions a couple of days before so that Nick could get his pineapple and three-year-old rum infusing nicely.
For the infusion
1 small pineapple, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
1ltr preferably El Dorado 3-year-plus rum
For the lime and bitter orange sherbet
5 limes zested and juice reserved
4 Seville or ordinary oranges, zested and juice reserved
1 tbsp caster sugar
For the Demerara syrup
500ml Demerara sugar
Put the sliced pineapple in a non-reactive bowl and pour over the rum. Cover with clingfilm and leave to infuse for at least 48 hours. If you are leaving the pineapple to infuse for longer you can keep it in an airtight preserving or kilner jar.
To make the sherbet, mix the zest, juice and sugar together until dissolved, and leave to stand for an hour, stirring every so often.
Make the Demerara syrup by heating the sugar and water, stirring every so often until infused; then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
To serve, mix all of the ingredients together, adding more or less of the rum and pineapple infusion to taste, and serve in a punch bowl with lots of ice.
As we peered into the vats of fermenting sugar-cane molasses used for the rum, I suddenly thought it would be brilliant to make that old-fashioned dessert-trolley classic, rum baba, using the natural rum ferment instead of yeast. But getting the natural rum ferment out of the country proved a bit tricky as you can imagine, so I ended up using my sourdough-bread starter mixed with molasses which gave the babas a nice dark rich colour. At home you may not have either, so I've given you the dried yeast option here.
2tsp dried yeast
3tbsp warm water
225g plain flour
3 medium free-range eggs, beaten
1tbsp caster sugar
100g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing the moulds
For the syrup
500g granulated sugar
200ml good-quality rum, plus some extra
Mix the dried yeast and water together until dissolved. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
Add the yeast mixture, eggs and sugar, then mix everything together with your hands to form a smooth dough and knead the dough for a couple of minutes in the bowl until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
Cover the dough with small pieces of the butter, then cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place such as an airing cupboard or near a warm radiator for about an hour, until the mixture has doubled in volume.
Knead the butter into the dough for a minute or so until it becomes smooth and glossy.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Meanwhile, butter 8 dariole or similar moulds and chill them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes; then repeat with another layer of butter.
Spoon the mixture into the moulds so they are two-thirds full. Then place the moulds on a tray, cover with a damp tea towel. Leave the dough to prove again in a warm place for about 20 minutes, until the mixture has risen to the tops of the moulds.
Bake the babas for about 15-20 minutes or until they are golden, then carefully turn them out, using a small knife if you need to, and transfer to a cooling tray.
Meanwhile, make the syrup: dissolve the sugar in the water in a large saucepan and boil rapidly for a few minutes to make a clear syrup.
Stir in the rum, then add the babas, leaving them to soak for about 5-10 minutes and turning them with a spoon every so often so they absorb as much of the liquid as possible; then transfer to a serving dish.
Serve with a jug of extra rum and thick cream or sweetened whipped cream.
El Dorado chicken
Wherever we went, chicken seemed to be on the menu in some form or other, often spice-rubbed and occasionally curried. By our last day we had had quite enough of the stuff, but I thought I should create my own tribute to Guyana and El Dorado rum by knocking up my own marinade using local ingredients and, of course, rum.
I've used cassareep here which is a black liquid made from cassava root and one of the ingredients in the local "pepperpot" stew. If you can't find it, then use pomegranate molasses.
4 free-range chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
For the marinade
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A small piece of root ginger, scraped and chopped
1tbsp Demerara sugar
4tbsp cassareep or pomegranate molasses
1 medium green chilli, chopped
2tsp ground cumin
Blend all of the ingredients for the marinade together in a liquidiser, then place the chicken in a non-reactive container and pour the marinade over. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
Pre heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the chicken breasts on a baking tray and spoon over a little of the marinade. Bake for 20-30 minutes, spooning over more of the marinade as they are cooking so they are nicely glazed. You may need to add a little water to the baking tray during cooking if the chicken is getting dry or burning. Serve with mashed pumpkin or sweet potato.
Pumpkin and coconut cake
We spent one evening at Baganara Island, a very peaceful and relaxing small resort with a fantastic colonial lodge and only a couple of handfuls of rooms. It's a great starting point for exploring the unspoilt Guyanan rainforests; and as we flew up in our small private plane to the Kaieteur Falls, the largest single-drop waterfall in the world, we relished this cake which the chef had packed on board for us.
350g butternut squash or yellow pumpkin flesh, grated
120g desiccated coconut
200g self-raising flour
150g Demerara sugar
4 medium free-range eggs, beaten
Butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Grease a 20cm x 15cm x 5-6cm deep baking tin and line with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.
Combine the squash, coconut, self-raising flour, sugar and eggs together until well mixed, then spoon into the prepared baking tin. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until nicely coloured, then leave to cool a little and transfer to a cooling rack.
Serve with tea or as a pudding with thick cream or ice cream.