Inspired by the amazing win of Strike Rich, the second biggest upset in the Kentucky Derby’s history, I decided to delve into Kentucky food history by reading and cooking from a new book on the subject, it’s title compelling asking Which Fork Do I use with My Bourbon?: Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties from University Press of Kentucky.
Wondering what fork to use when serving bourbon isn’t a question we commonly ask, but authors Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler are entertainment and bourbon experts who travel frequently conducting seminars and tastings. The impetus for their book stems from being constantly asked how to go about hosting the perfect cocktail or dinner party starting from table setting to pairing the best foods and bourbons.
Their bourbon credentials are impeccable. Stevens is an inductee into the Bourbon Hall of Fame, the first female master bourbon taster, founder of the Bourbon Women Association, and one of the originators of the Kentucky Bourbon Trails. Reigler is the author of several bourbon and travel books including Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide and The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, a former restaurant critic and beverage columnist, and past president of the Bourbon Women Association as well as a certified bourbon steward.
Now Stevens and Reigler are the type of Kentucky women who if they were going to tailgate at the Kentucky Derby wouldn’t bring a cooler filled will take-out from the deli counter of the local grocery store to be served on paper plates and eaten with plastic dinnerware. This type of Kentucky woman brings great grandmother’s silver serving dishes and great great Aunt Mabel’s fine China. And, of course, the food would be equally well turned out though not necessarily fussy or hard to make.
Despite the elegance of it all, Stevens and Reigler don’t want anyone “to work their fingers to the bone planning and executing.”
After all, they say, “the best form of bourbon etiquette is simple to make people feel comfortable.”
The following recipes are from Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon.
Dark and Bloody Mary:
- 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, paprika mix
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 2 large lemon wedges
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato juice
To prepare the seasoning mix, combine in a mortar (or spice grinder) one part each smoked sea salt, smoked black pepper, and smoked paprika (the authors suggest these should all come from Bourbon Barrel Foods– bourbonbarrelfoods.com). Finely crush with a pestle and shake together in a jar.
To a pint glass or a large mason jar filled with ice, add the bourbon, squeeze and drop in the lemon wedges, and add 1teaspoon of the seasoning mix and the Worcestershire sauce. Shake. Add more ice and the tomato juice. Shake again.
Garnish with a long straw and baby corn, large pitted black olive, and cherry pepper, all on a stick.
- 1 ounce Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Blend #1
- ¾ ounce carrot juice
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ¼ ounce date syrup (see below)
- 3 drops Crude Bitters—Sycophant
- Sage leaf for garnish
Combine all the cocktail ingredients in a shaker. Shake on ice and double-strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sage leaf.
Macerate 1 pint of dates with rich syrup (1 pound of “sugar in the raw” and ½ pound of water, heated and stirred until the sugar dissolves).
Susan’s Tuna Spread:
Author Susan Reigler came across this recipe forty years ago in a small spiral-bound book of recipes by James Beard that was included with her purchase of a Cuisinart food processor. She always gets raves when she serves it. Spicy and tangy, this is not your bachelor uncle’s bland tuna fish salad.
- 2 5-ounce cans albacore tuna packed in water, drained
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup tightly packed fresh parsley sprigs
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1½ tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend briefly.
Bourbon Pineapple Poundcake:
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup bourbon
- 1 to 2 fresh pineapples, quartered and sliced
- in thick strips
- 1 pound cake
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Mix the brown sugar and bourbon until it forms a thin paste. Lay the pineapple strips side by side in a baking dish.
Brush the brown sugar mixture thickly on the pineapple strips. Put the dish in the oven and allow the mixture to melt over the pineapple until warm.
Lay the pineapple strips over slices of pound cake and ladle any extra juice over each slice. Serve immediately.
Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bread Pudding:
- 12 cups stale French bread, diced in 1-inch cubes
- 1 quart whole milk
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in large chunks
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and toss with the milk until the
bread is moistened. Soak for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the eggs, sugar,
vanilla, and cinnamon and pour over the bread-milk mixture. Fold
together until well mixed.
Fold in the chocolate chunks and mix until evenly distributed. Pour
into a greased, deep 13- by 9-inch pan. Drizzle the melted butter over
the batter and cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes covered and then for another 10 to 15 minutes
uncovered, until the pudding is set and firm in the middle and golden
brown on top. Serve warm with Bourbon Butter Sauce.
Bourbon Butter Sauce
- 8 ounces butter
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon
- 2 eggs
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
Whisk in the sugar and bourbon and bring to a simmer. Crack the eggs
in a large bowl and whisk until blended. Add a little warm bourbon
mixture to the eggs and whisk. Continue to add the bourbon mixture
a little at a time until the eggs have been tempered. Pour all the liquid
back into the pan and return it to medium heat. Bring to a light simmer
and cook for several minutes, until thickened. Keep warm and serve over bread pudding.
Photography by Pam Spaulding.