Secret Weapon: Guava Rum Sauce

Spicy guava rum sauce adds sweet heat to everything

Chef Makani Gerardi recalls fishing and foraging with her father on the beaches of Hawaii's Big Island, riding atop his shoulders to look out for turkeys when they'd go up in the mountains to hunt. On their journeys, she'd collect ulu (breadfruit), mountain apples and guava along the way. "It was like magic," she recalls.

Her ocean-washed memories, which include grilling meat and fish over wood fires, now make their way into her food at L.A.'s Pono Burger. She grills her organic, grass-fed beef patties over a white oak fire, pulling in the smoke that she remembers from childhood. And she tops those burgers with house-made jams and sauces, like the spicy guava rum sauce (see the recipe) she slathers on the Kuawa Crunch.

The sauce also stems from her arrival in L.A. four years ago, when she discovered a strawberry guava tree abundant with fruit in her new yard. Her Brazilian friend Anna and their love for caipirinhas inspired her to combine the sweet fruit with rum. And recollections of her father using enough Hawaiian chile to "put hair on your chest" inspired her to really kick things up. "If you're gonna call it spicy, it needs to be spicy."

Altogether, the rustic, viscous sauce is sweet with onions, guava and tomato; fragrant with anise, allspice and curry powder; on fire with Sriracha and habanero peppers; and brightly balanced with apple cider vinegar, lemon and olive oil. It comes together quickly in the kitchen and then can sit in a pot on a grill: "There's an effortlessness about this that's enjoyable. There's nothing pretentious about it," Gerardi says.

Which, she promises, makes it perfect for summer barbecues. "That's the sexy stuff: when everyone's going to the beach, barbecuing, taking showers in the middle of the day. What's happening at the end of summer? The fun stuff."

Here are a few of her favorite ways to get to the fun stuff, all year round.

① Cold Salad Dressing: For a spicy take on a Sonoma chicken salad, toss roasted and pulled-apart chicken with enough of the sauce to give it a light coat. Add toasted almonds and chopped celery, then chill it. "In the summer, we're craving ceviche and crudo, and so this gives you something cold with crunch and spice," she says. "And because the sauce has a beautiful texture, you don't need any fat from mayonnaise to give it bulk." Serve it over a bed of lettuce, or use individual butter or Romaine leaves to serve it in cups for a cool appetizer.

② Quick and Easy Marinade: For a serious marinade for your chicken, ribs, fish or pork tenderloin, add water and use a hand blender to thin the sauce until smooth. Pour it over your protein and let it sit for just 20 to 30 minutes. "The marinade is no joke: It's got big flavors, so you'll get a lot of beautiful flavors really quickly."

③ Grilled Cheese: Another influence for the sauce is the Brazilian pairing of guava paste and fruit, known as a Romeo and Juliet. Picking up on that inspiration, layer the sauce with smoked cheddar on crunchy bread and grill it. Because it's got that thick and chunky texture, "it'll hold its own inside." Serve some on the side for dipping, too.

④ Cocktails: For a sweet-and-spicy rum cocktail, strain the sauce with something fine. In a shaker filled with ice, add an ounce of sauce, one and a half ounces of rum (she loves Kirk and Sweeney), and a good squeeze of lime to brighten it all up. Shake, strain and serve straight up.

⑤ Grilled Fruit: For the easiest summer barbecue dessert ever, skewer some pineapple, coconut or any other densely sweet tropical fruit, and char it on the grill. Drizzle with the rum sauce, top with buttermilk ice cream, and you're good to go.