Cooking with bourbon has always been popular here in Kentucky. We are the far and away the world's largest producer of this fine spirit and it is an integral part of our history, commerce, and tourism industry.
Woodford Reserve is the smallest of the ten largest bourbon distilleries located in Kentucky and is just down the road from me. Bourbon is generally considered to be a man's drink but the distillery is making a concerted effort to market bourbon to women. Their Woodford in the Kitchen series features workshops and tastings with their chef in residence, Ouita Micheal, along with guest chefs to show would-be bourbon connoisseurs how bourbon has a place not only at the bar, but at the dinner table.
The distillery is located in Woodford County, the heart of Bluegrass Country, and an idyllic setting, especially on a crisp Fall day. A couple of friends and I attended their latest Woodford in the Kitchen event featuring Jeremy Ashby, an award winning chef at Azur Restaurant, here in Lexington. I'm not a bourbon drinker but walked away with a ton of information, inspiration and what may have been the best meal of my life. So good that I want to share it with you.
After a tour of the distillery we enjoyed a Bluegrass Sunrise, a riff on the classic Tequila Sunrise but with bourbon. A healthy shot of bourbon is given a good shake with Grand Marnier and orange juice. Grenadine is added creating a drink that is beautiful as well as potent. At first sip the sting of the bourbon hits but mellows as it warms the back of your throat.
Chef Ashby is passionate about the farm to table concept and sustainable farming. His dishes feature local ingredients whenever possible and he is known for his creative use of traditional ingredients reinvented in new and exciting ways.
Our first appetizer, Ham Hock and Goat Cheese Wontons with Five Pepper Jelly and Pickled Okra Chow Chow is a perfect example. Featuring country ham, local sweet corn, and goat cheese wrapped and steamed in a won ton and topped with local spicy jelly and pickled okra, the ingredients are as old-fashioned Southern, but the execution is Asian. The taste, incredible. I loved the silky, smokey strands of ham mixed with the sweetness of the corn and tang of the cheese. The spiciness of the jelly added the perfect balance. This was my favorite dish of the day and the one I plan on recreating.
Bourbon and Buttered Popcorn Shooter with Mushroom Foam and Fennel Pollen Dust was the next appetizer and the biggest surprise. Sweet corn was pureed into a soup that honest to goodness, tasted just like buttered popcorn. Liquid popcorn. Simply amazing.
Our final appetizer was Chef Ashby's signature dish, Woven Shrimp. entucky aquaculture is another passion for Chef Ashby and he uses Kentucky raised fish frequently. A huge Kentucky prawn is wrapped in a shredded phyllo dough called katafini that cooks up super crispy and resembling a bird's nest. A sauce featuring quince paste was sweet and salty providing a perfect balance of flavor. This dish was delicious and dramatic.
Chef Ouita Michael walked us through a flavor wheel to show us how well bourbon pairs with food. This was my second time around the wheel with Chef Michael and it really has broadened my appreciation for the complexity of bourbon's flavor profile and how it pairs well with so many flavors. The holy trinity of bourbon's flavor is nuts, fruits, and caramel. We experienced each of these flavors as we paired a sip of bourbon with Parmesan, orange, hazelnut, dark chocolate, dried cranberry, and sorghum.
A second cocktail before the entrees were served. Too much bourbon at this point so I can't remember the name, but it was a peach tea/bourbon concoction that was very good, even thought I don't like tea.
Bourbon Smoked Kentucky Striped Bass was another showstopper. A roulade of Kentucky raised bass was rolled with a mixture of freshwater prawns, goat cheese, and shitake mushrooms and served over a veloute of sweet potato and tangerine swirled with vanilla oil. I am not a huge fish eater and was blown away with how much I loved this fish. They smoked the fish using the wood from the bourbon barrels resulting in a sweet smoky flavor that worked beautifully with the sweetness of the fish.
Dessert was a simple Sour Cream Blueberry Cake with Vanilla Bourbon Anglaise and Toasted Almond Gelato. A small cake was served over a pool of cream anglaise and wore a top hat of gelato. The perfect ending to an incredible meal.
I had a wonderful time at Woodford Reserve and walked away with a new interest in using bourbon and other varieties of alcohol in the kitchen. What spirits do you like to cook with?
1 1/4 oz bourbon
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
4 oz orange juice
orange twist and cherry for garnish
Combine bourbon, Grand Marnier, and orange juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain and pour into a chilled martini glass. Swirl grenadine around edges of drink so that it will settle to the bottom of the glass. Garnish with orange twist and cherry.