Vintage cocktail-party appetizers are a mixed bag, with some stalwart standards of the 1950s and '60s deservedly fading into obscurity and others periodically sparking revived interest. One of he most deservedly durable is rumaki, a savory treat originally popularized by San Francisco's "Trader Vic" Bergeron. Whether he invented the appetizer or -- as he claimed -- discovered it in Polynesia, its combination of Western bacon and Asian flavors is a potent early example of fusion cuisine. It's also surprisingly easy to make, requiring only moderate dexterity.
Whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar and freshly minced or finely grated fresh ginger root to make the appetizer's characteristic marinade. The proportions of these three main ingredients can be varied to your taste, though most recipes call for 1 part sugar for every 3 to 5 parts soy. It's usually simplest to start with less sugar, then sweeten the mixture until it meets your taste. Fresh ginger has a pleasant, citrusy bite of its own -- but if you wish, you can raise the intensity of your appetizers with a few flakes of crushed chilies, a splash of hot sauce or a pinch of curry powder.
Chicken livers and water chestnuts provide rumaki with the intriguingly different textures that make it so pleasurable. The livers naturally form two lobes, joined together by a small tendon. Separate the lobes by removing the chewy tendon. The lobes can be left intact for larger rumaki, or each can be cut in half for smaller portions. Cut the water chestnuts into halves, or quarters for smaller rumaki. Combine the livers, water chestnuts and marinade in a small bowl, and let them marinate for at least an hour.
To make up the rumaki, drain the marinade from the meat and water chestnuts. Lay out strips of bacon, and cut them into halves for full-sized rumaki or thirds for the smaller version. Place a marinated chicken liver on each piece of bacon, and top it with a halved or quartered water chestnut. Roll the bacon tightly around each liver to form a snug bundle, and then push a toothpick though the roll to hold it together. Repeat until you've shaped all the rumaki.
Once it's made, you can cook your rumaki with varying methods. They can simply be fried in a skillet, for example, though the toothpicks make it difficult to crisp them evenly on all sides. The quickest alternative is to line up the rumaki on your broiler tray and broil them, turning them once, for 5 to 7 minutes. If you opt for the broiler, you'll need to soak the toothpicks in cold water to keep them from burning. Alternatively, arrange the rumaki on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake them at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on their size, until the livers are cooked but still slightly pink.
One advantage to roasting the rumaki, rather than broiling or pan-frying, is the option of basting them with the marinade. The marinade you used for soaking the livers must be boiled to make it food-safe again, so it's easier and faster to simply make additional marinade and put some aside for this purpose. Brush the rumaki with marinade once or twice on each side, as they bake, to accentuate the Asian flavors.