Chefs are finding creative uses for America’s Native Spirit, and not just in Kentucky.
Cooking with Bourbon imparts the spirit’s signature sweetness to meats and game fish, along with notes of caramel, vanilla, honey and oak. You can make a quick marinade by adding brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic and your favorite spices; to prepare a glaze, throw in some molasses or jam and reduce for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s a noteworthy way to add flavor and depth to a dish, and is a charm when grilling during autumn and the cooler months.
Downtown Louisville, of course, has a lively and interesting restaurant scene. Opened in 2003, Limestone Restaurant blends “new Southern cooking with old Southern charm.” At the helm is Chef Jim Gerhardt, who earned the AAA Five Diamond Award while at The Oakroom of Louisville’s Seelbach Hilton. He offers a Bourbon Smoked Rib Eye, along with salmon roasted on Bourbon barrel staves. Bourbon’s Bistro, another downtown gem, opened in 2005 in the historic Clifton area on Frankfort Avenue. It features a seasonally changing, “Bourbon-inspired menu,” and hosts monthly Bourbon dinners.
Sullivan University, the state’s largest private educational institution, is well known for their National Center for Hospitality Studies under the direction of Chef Albert Schmid. Schmid is the author of The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook and an authority on beer, wine and spirits. His curriculum focuses on Hospitality Management as well as Culinary Arts, and provides intensive training in food production.
On a national level, many well-known chefs have incorporated Bourbon into their dishes. Bobby Flay makes a New Mexican Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Ancho Sauce; Emeril has produced a Baked ham with Bourbon and Coke Marinade, as well as a Bourbon-Pecan Paté using pureed chicken livers; Paula Deen is noted for her Bourbon Beef Tenderloin and Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops. All three chefs have made extensive use of the spirit in desserts.
Few among us would consider T.G.I. Friday’s to be the epicenter of culinary experimentation, but there’s no denying the charm of their Jack Daniel’s Grill Glaze. First introduced in 1997, it has become one of their most popular menu items and now appears with dishes as varied as steak, ribs, burgers, salmon, chicken and shrimp. While Jack Daniel’s does fulfill all the technical requirements to be classified as Bourbon, I don’t recommend that you call it that in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
In April, during a visit to Bulleit Bourbon in Shively (outside of Louisville), I was served a dinner consisting of a series of Bourbon-infused dishes and sauces. Highlights included yellow tomato gazpacho with a hint of Bulleit, and scallops marinated in Bulleit, garlic and thyme, served over polenta. In one intriguing dish, lobster medallions were placed atop small pancakes that had been dabbed with vanilla; the sweetness of the vanilla echoed the flavor profile of the Bourbon served with the dish.
We tend to associate Bourbon cookery with Southern cuisine, but this is actually a starting point rather than the definition of the entire category. For a glimpse into how interesting and varied Bourbon can be in the kitchen, check out www.cookingwithwhisky.com, an excellent blog compiled by Jessie Damuck. Ms. Damuck, a recipe tester and developer based in New York City, catalogs many of Bourbon’s expected uses (drinks and desserts) but also presents some fascinating recipes for savory dishes. Highlights include a Braised Meyer-Lemon and Kale Sandwich with Bourbon Mayo, Bourbon Roasted Figs with Prosciutto, and Cauliflower with Bourbon, Raisins and Pine Nuts.
ABOUT THE BOOK: IconicSpirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the tales of twelve spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brands, they are “the best kinds of stories: the type a writer could never make up.”
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