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: Venison
Gamier meats, like venison, offer more complicated flavors than fatty beef and carry sugars more gracefully. The blueberry and brown sugar in this rub counteract the natural tanginess of the meat flavor while the garlic adds an extra savory level. It's not a complicated rub to make, but the taste is extremely complex. Experimenting with other dehydrated fruits can be an interesting way to work with this lineup of ingredients.
The Blues Rub
- 5 cups dehydrated blueberries, ground
- 1/4 cup sea salt, smoked
- 1/16 cup fresh ground cumin
- 1/4 cup ground nigella
- 1/4 cup granulated garlic
- 1/3 cup granulated onion
- 1/4 cup fresh ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
Credit: Robin O'Neill Photography
Put it on thick and cook carefully. Your dinner is going to be ready fast.