Kentucky Derby Dining
At the derby, the worlds of sports, fashion, and food culminate in one of the South’s great parties. Maybe it’s because Kentucky is the home of bourbon; maybe it’s the excitement from placing a bet; or maybe it’s the parade of beautiful horses and glamorous revelers, but something about the greatest two minutes in sports demands celebration. In tribute to the Race of the Roses, we’ve developed a cocktail-party menu that honors the South and won’t soil your Sunday best.
The Julep – a symbol of the derby and friend (or foe) to those who have gambled too much – masks its potency with sugar and mint. Over a two-day period, Churchill Downs goes through 1,000 pounds of mint; our version calls for a lot less, but be sure not to skimp on ice, or the drink won’t be as smooth as it should.
Yield: 1 serving
Using a mortar and pestle, grind mint, and sugar together. Add mint mixture to a chilled cocktail shaker with honey, ice, and bourbon. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds and pour into a chilled silver mint julep glass or tumbler.
For those not completely comfortable in the kitchen, the pulled-pork recipe will soon become part of your “what to cook when you need to impress” repertoire. The oven does all the work – all you have to do is season the meat and set a timer. The corn fritters might seem like a challenge, but they’re almost as easy as making pancakes.
Yield: 40 pieces
Preheat oven to 250˚F. Add garlic, mustard, cayenne, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper to a small bowl. Mix well. Rub mixture over meat and place in a roasting pan. Pour beer into pan and cover tightly with tinfoil. Bake in oven for 2 hours, turning occasionally. Remove foil and allow to cook until center of meat reaches 170˚F, about 2–2 1/2 hours. Allow to cool. Using a fork or your fingers, pull apart meat into small pieces. (It will be very tender and fall apart easily.) Skim fat off sauce remaining in pan. Drizzle half over meat.
In a large bowl, add cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Add eggs, milk, cream, and mix. Add corn, jalapeño, cilantro, and chives, and mix until combined.
In a large nonstick sauté pan on medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil. When foam has subsided, add 1 heaping tablespoon of batter to pan per cake, being sure not to overcrowd pan. When cake starts to bubble and bottoms are golden brown, about 2–3 minutes, flip. Cook until other side had browned, another 1–2 minutes. Add another tablespoons of butter and oil and repeat process.
To assemble hors d’oeuvre, place a spoonful of pulled pork on top of corn fritter. Garnish with 2 (3/4-inch) pieces of chive per cake, if desired.
At the paramount of Southern sporting events, it would seem improper not to serve fried chicken. This version is daintier than the classic thanks to the skewer, so none of your guests will have to worry about spoiling their Sunday best.
Yield: 20–24 pieces
In a large bowl, add chicken, buttermilk, paprika, and garlic powder. Mix well, cover with Saran, and refrigerate. Allow to marinate 3 hours.
Add flour to a large bowl. Remove chicken from buttermilk, allowing excess to drip off. Dredge in flour, making sure each piece is completely covered with flour. Skewer chicken, placing only one piece of chicken per skewer.
Fill a medium saucepan with at least 3 inches of oil. Heat oil until it registers 360˚F on a candy thermometer. Add 6–8 skewers to oil. Cook chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from oil, drain on a paper towel, and season with salt immediately. Repeat process with remaining chicken and serve warm.
Home cooks and professional chefs alike are passionate about grits; we find the key is to cook them slow and stir constantly. For a cocktail party, we serve them in 4oz clear cups. (For a great selection of artistic disposable tableware check out sweetflavorfl.com.) If you’re looking for something a bit different, substitute the chives with parsley, chervil, basil, or cilantro. A word of advice: When serving, use a 4oz ladle to keep it neat.
Yield: 15–18 tasting portions
Bring chicken stock to a boil. Slowly add grits, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until grits are tender, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula so they don’t get lumpy or stick to bottom of pan. Shut off heat and add cream, cheese, butter, and chives. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Bourbon is serious business in Kentucky, and cherries are the ideal canvas for this application. Sure, you can buy similar products at specialty food stores, but it’s way more fun to have creative control over your own batch.
Yield: 3 cups
Add cherries, bourbon, syrup, and vanilla bean to an airtight jar. Refrigerate for 1 week so cherries can macerate in bourbon.
This is a sweet bar snack, sundae topping, or nice addition to trail mix. They’re pretty addictive after a few cocktails, so be sure you have enough for all of your guests.
Yield: 5 to 6 servings
Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer. Add chocolates to a bowl and mix. Place bowl over simmering water, making sure bowl does not touch water. When chocolate has melted, stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Remove from heat and add pecans. Mix well.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove pecans from chocolate mixture with tongs and place on parchment. Refrigerate until chocolate has completely solidified and pecans are cold, about 5 hours. Transfer pecans to an airtight container and refrigerate until serving.