With a rich flavor that rivals that of brandy, Kentucky bourbon can be added to desserts, marinades, barbecue sauces and much more. Read on as several Kentucky chefs share their favorite ways of using bourbon in the kitchen.
One Louisville chef gaining kudos from the James Beard Foundation—he was a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2010 and 2011—is Seviche’s Anthony Lamas. He combines regional ingredients with the flavors of his Spanish and Puerto Rican heritages, creating a tasty fusion of Latin-inspired flavors. Learning his way around a kitchen at an early age, Lamas took his first culinary steps in his family’s Spanish restaurant. When he moved to Louisville in 1992, he made his mark at several of the city’s finest restaurants. Louisville Magazine named him one of the top chefs to watch.
In 2005, Lamas opened Seviche, a contemporary Latin restaurant that uses seasonal artisan ingredients from the Bluegrass region and fresh seafood. The restaurant has garnered wide critical acclaim; Esquire’s John Mariani calls it “one of America’s best and most innovative Nuevo Latino restaurants with plenty of the chef’s personality in every dish.” A Wood-ford Reserve Culinary Bourbon Challenge gave Lamas the opportunity to display his skills at combining Latin dishes and Kentucky flavor. His pork tenderloin with smoked cheddar chipotle sweet corn cakes won first prize.
Lamas enjoys working with bourbon’s flavor tones, which can be sweet, spicy or rich with butterscotch. Although bourbon often is used in sauces for pork, he finds that it also works well with shrimp, beef and lamb. Latin cuisine makes plentiful use of rum, but bourbon often can be an interesting replacement, with the butterscotch tones making a good accompaniment to pineapple, ginger and cherries. Many cooks first experiment with bourbon when they add it to bread puddings and caramel, and this is a good start, but Lamas encourages people to experiment further and not to be afraid of a little trial and error. When preparing a bourbon dinner at New York’s James Beard House, he used bourbon in recipes that might seem unlikely: fois gras, and tuna seviche in coconut. If using bourbon in barbecue sauce, remember to cook it a little so that the alcohol can mellow and the flavor is not too raw. Finally, remember that each bourbon has a different taste and will give a different final result. Cook with a bourbon that you enjoy drinking, and Lamas says you will be able to enjoy that same flavor in your meals.
Chef Ouita Michel bears the distinction of being the only chef-in-residence at a Kentucky bourbon distillery; she has held the position at Woodford Reserve since 2009. In addition, she and her husband, Chris, own and operate three central Kentucky restaurants: Midway’s Holly Hill Inn, a 2010 Fodor’s Choice Restaurant; Wallace Station Deli & Bakery, which recently was featured on The Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives; and Lexington’s Windy Corner Market and Restaurant. Since beginning her restaurant career in the 1980s, Michel has focused on building relationships with community farms and serving food that uses the freshest local ingredients, including bourbon. Her hard work has paid off. For the past four years, she was nominated for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award as Best Chef: Southeast. She also has been featured in a plethora of magazines, and is a member of Slow Food Bluegrass.
Michel can share plenty of tips about cooking with bourbon. She finds bourbon’s sweetness a natural match for sorghum, caramel and brown sugar. If you prefer a contrast of flavors, pair it with aged, slightly salty foods—for example, Parmesan cheese, country ham or good-quality olives. She suggests using bourbon as a replacement for brandy in many recipes. Since it combines particularly well with toasted nuts and fruits, consider adding a dash of bourbon to your homemade fruit preserves. Recipes using bourbon don’t have to be complicated, either. One of the chef’s favorite techniques is to sear sea scallops and flame them with Woodford Reserve for a quick but elegant meal.
What if you have only a lower-end bourbon? Michel recommends using less expensive bourbons when making brines or marinades. The more expensive ones are perfect to use to finish a recipe, when the alcohol has not been cooked out and the flavor will need to stand on its own. A final flourish of bourbon to a sauce just before serving adds to the perfume of the meal.
And her final tip when cooking with bourbon? “If you can’t taste the bourbon in your dish, you didn’t use enough. Add more!”
Covington’s Chez Nora is one of the cornerstones of the MainStrasse Village, a mix of shops, pubs and restaurants that imbue the locale with German spirit. Named for the previous owner, Nora Dempsey, Chez Nora is now owned by husband-and-wife team Jimmy and Pati Gilliece. Pati Gilliece is responsible for the menu and the daily running of the kitchen. Cooking for large numbers does not intimidate Gilliece; she is the youngest of 12 children. While her father cooked for the family on weekends, Gilliece soon learned that developing the skills to cook for everyone during the week earned her the good favor of her rowdy brothers. As soon as she left school, she entered the restaurant business, first as a server, and then as a restaurateur with her husband. When they bought Chez Nora, she decided to move into the kitchen.
Gilliece’s advice for those wanting to cook with bourbon, or with anything new, is to relax and have fun. “Play with your food,” she suggests. While bourbon and pork make a good pairing, she also likes to use bourbon with beef and game. Given the subtle nuances in different bourbons, Gilliece emphasizes the importance of using a bourbon that you like—after all, you have to drink the rest of the bottle. She also cautions against using a blend. Don’t be afraid to try different varieties in different dishes. You may find that you prefer the results you get with one bourbon over another. And you may develop a favorite bourbon for use in desserts and another for dinner recipes. She says the even if you do not enjoy sipping a glass of bourbon, don’t let that dissuade you from cooking with it. The interesting flavor it adds often is a pleasant surprise.
Lastly, safety first! Gilliece says that if you are going to ignite the bourbon—in a flambé or as a dessert, for example—do so in a controlled setting.
To find an up-and-coming young chef, you need look no further than Kentucky’s state park system. Kendra Clark, chef at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park, grew up in Kentucky and quickly developed an appreciation for regional food. “Kentucky cuisine is very much a comfort food,” she says. “Visitors from other states will always find something to love from what we have to offer.” Clark graduated at the top of her class in culinary school and achieved statewide recognition when she won the 2010 Kentucky State Fair Cast-Iron Chef Competition with her New York strip steak. She has worked at Greenbo since 2006.
Clark loves using Kentucky bourbon because of the distinct flavor and texture it can add to any dish. She advises first-time bourbon cooks to start with a mild bourbon. Use less to begin with, since you can always add more to increase the flavor, but you can’t take it away once it’s been added. Be sure to cook it down so that you get the flavor of the bourbon, rather than the burning of the alcohol. Although Clark likes to use bourbon in marinades for steaks and pork chops, her favorite use for it is in desserts, particularly bread pudding and, of course, bourbon balls. When it comes to desserts, she says, “I like to stick to my roots, and Kentucky bourbon is the best around for drinking, cooking, grilling … anything.”
Pork Tenderloin with Smoked Cheddar Chipotle Sweet Corn Grit Cakes
Adobo-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 4 (8-ounce) portions
Chipotle-Orange Demi Sauce
1/4 cup Woodford Reserve bourbon
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
3 ounces chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 c up Worcestershire sauce
1 cup thawed frozen orange juice concentrate
1/4 c up honey
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Smoked Cheddar Chipotle Sweet Corn Grit Cakes
3 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 t easpoon kosher salt
3/4 cup stone-ground grits
1/4 c up (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1 inch pieces
2⁄3 cup fresh Silver Queen corn kernels (about 2 ears) or frozen white shoepeg corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro
For the pork, combine the olive oil, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and cayenne pepper in a bowl and mix well. Rub over the pork and marinate in the refrigerator for 8 hours or longer.
For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Mix well and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Store, covered, in the refrigerator until serving time.
For the grit cakes, combine the water, 1 tablespoon olive oil and the salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the grits and cook using the package directions, stirring in the butter and chipotle chiles in adobo sauce as the grits begin to thicken. Cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the cheese gradually and stir until melted. Stir in half the corn, reserving the remaining corn for garnish. Remove from the heat.
Grease a 12x18-inch pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pour the grits into the pan and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface and chill for 4 to 24 hours. Cut into the desired shape.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauté pan. Dust the grit cakes with flour and add to the pan. Fry for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove to a sheet pan and bake for 3 to 5 minutes. Keep warm.
To serve, preheat the grill. Grill the pork over medium-hot coals until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Reheat the sauce. Place 1 grit cake in the center of each serving plate and place 1 portion of pork next to the cake. Spoon the desired amount of sauce around the grit cake and over the pork. Gar-nish with the reserved corn kernels and cilantro. Serves 4.
Chef Ouita Michel`s recipe for Woodford Reserve Vinaigrette and Bourbon Academy Salad
Woodford Reserve Vinaigrette
½ cup sorghum molasses
3 tablespoons Woodford Reserve
½ cup malt or cider vinegar
A few shakes of Tabasco
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
Combine the vinegar, bourbon and sorghum and stir or shake until dissolved. Add the onion, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil.
Bourbon Academy Salad
for Master Distiller Chris Morris and Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1 large head of Bibb lettuce (Ouita recommends Gagel`s Limestone Bibb Lettuce) or 2 heads if they are small
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup or so Woodford Reserve Vinaigrette
Clean and dry the lettuce. Arrange it nicely onto 4 salad plates. Peel the orange completely with a knife so that none of the skin is left, including the white membrane. Slice the orange. Arrange the orange slices on the greens. Scatter the nuts and arrange the onion slices on each salad. Drizzle each with the dressing. Serves 4.
1. Use pears, apples or Asian pears as the fruit. Add dried cherries or cranberries.
2. Use walnuts or hazelnuts instead of pecans.
3. Add a blue cheese crumble if using apples or pears instead of oranges.
Chef Pati Gilliece of Chez Nora shares her recipe for Apricot and Pecan-Stuffed Pork Loin with Bourbon Cream
5-pound pork loin
1½ cups dried apricots
½ cup pecans
1 whole garlic (8 cloves) peeled
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons thyme, divided
¼ cup molasses, divided
¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil
1 cup bourbon
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
Trim and open the pork loin so it will lay flat (double butterfly) and then pound with a meat mallet until Â½ inch thick. Combine apricots, pecans, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor until coarse. Add 1 tablespoon of the thyme, 1/8 cup of the molasses and 1/8 cup of the oil to the food processor and combine. Spread mixture evenly on top of flattened pork. Start with the long side and roll, securing with butcher`s twine. Set aside while making sauce.
Bring bourbon, chicken broth and 1/8 cup of molasses to a boil. Remove from heat and light with a long match or grill lighter. Burn off the alcohol. This is an important step, as the oven may catch on fire if you forget to do this.
Pour the sauce over the pork loin and bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until thermometer registers 165 degrees. Remove the pork from the pan and slice. Add heavy cream, salt and pepper to the pan drippings. Stir over medium heat until slightly thickened. Pour the sauce over the sliced pork loin and carefully remove all of the butcher`s twine.
Chef Kendra Clark`s Bourbon Glazed Bread Pudding is a Kentucky twist on a dessert favorite
1 French bread loaf cut into squares
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
Mix all of the ingredients together in large bowl. Place in a baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1 hour.
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup of milk
Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and cook until thickened. Pour over warm bread pudding.