Like tainting a great single malt by mixing it with Coke, cooking a high-grade slab of lamb or beef with a haphazard sprinkle of spice is disrespectful to the central ingredient. A handful of Old Bay might work for your basic burger or store-bought trout, but ranch-raised beef, fresh game meat, and Gulf Snapper deserve a better rub down. That's why we asked Chef Edison Mays Jr., a farm-raised rub master, how best to put spices to work.
"Steak is steak; it needs more than salt and pepper," says Mays, who has created dozens of savory rubs – including the "Lemon Buddha," "Edison's Medicine," "Herbal Ember," and "Devil's Tail" – for Four Seasons Resort restaurants. "It's got to have some flavor. I grew up on a farm and – as far as I know – a cow doesn't come salted or spiced." That's why Mays' kitchen boasts some 40 mason jars of spices and why he encourages young cooks to experiment. A great rub, he points out, is "unique to each person."
Achieving that singularity can be complicated process, but Mays is quick to point out that the ingredients needed for rubs – unlike sauces or glazes – are easy to find. He estimates that 90 percent of the spices he uses can be found in either a grocery store or the average man's cupboard. The key is combining them the right way. Here is his process and some recipes rub rookies can use as a jumping off point.
Beginner Recipe: Beef
Mays dreamt up this rub while working on Nevis, a Caribbean island known for sugar plantations and spicy food. Like most Caribbean rubs, it is time tested and based on New World ingredients. It is also a great recipe to use as a base if you want to build something hotter. Substitute strong peppers for the cayenne and add a bit more cinnamon if you want to be aggressive. And feel free to throw on a bit more salt if the rub isn't engaging your tongue enough.
Nevisian Sunset Rub
Credit: Robin O'Neill Photography
- 1/2 cup granulated garlic
- 1/2 cup granulated onion
- 3/4 cup dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup ground coarse sea salt
- 3/4 cup ground all-spice
- 1/8 cup ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup ground coarse sugar cane
- 1/2 cup ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup chili flake
- 1/4 cup ground clove
- 1/8 cup ground cumin