Cooking with Bourbon for Bourbon Month
BY TOM YATES
The weeks and days leading up the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival always fill me with nostalgia.
Long before bourbon and food formed the perfect marriage, the Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style-Cooking School filled a fun niche for a lucky few of the thousands of people attending the annual two week festival held in September in the middle of National Bourbon Heritage Month.
Limited to 250 students (give or take a few), it was one of the first events to sell out months before the festival welcomed the world to Bardstown to celebrate our beloved Bluegrass elixir.
For years, I was fortunate enough to lead a team and take our little show a few miles down the road to cook, perform demo, and serve bourbon-inspired four-course dinners in a small event space tucked under century old magnolias and maples on the quaint grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park.
Washing over our controlled chaos, haunting tower bells tolled the languid music of “My Old Kentucky Home” throughout the serene grounds of the park. In the heat of the action, those echoing bells calmed, energized, and grounded my sense of self as a simple hard cooking Kentucky boy.
So, yes. As the Bourbon Festival nears, I grow nostalgic for a sip of that serenity and the slow glorious burn of cooking with bourbon.
Eat, drink, and be merry.
Great balls of bourbon!
Not all bourbon balls are created equal. Oh sure, we all adore our iconic, potent, and addictive chocolate delicacies laced with copious amounts of bourbon, but sometimes it’s fun to think outside of the box and take a little ride on the wild side.
(Bourbon Meatball Fried Rice Balls)
Arancini —deep fried rice balls made with leftover risotto filled with cheese or meat —are an ingenious way to utilize leftover rice. And while a well made risotto is a creamy ethereal dream, any forthcoming arancini captures the dream in another state with deep fried crunch.
Risotto doesn’t have to be a chore. All it takes is a little organization, time, attention, and 20 minutes of patience. Have fun with it. Just about anything can be incorporated into risotto. To let the bourbon stand out, I went straight up basic.
I warmed five cups chicken stock in a stock pot over a medium flame and parked it on a back burner to simmer on medium low.After sauteing one minced shallot in two tablespoons butter and two tablespoons olive oil until the shallots turned translucent, I added salt, pepper, and 1 1/2 cups arborio rice, turning the rice in the oil/butter combo to coat all the grains. When the glistening rice turned opaque, I hit the pan with 1/2 cup white wine and let it reduce before adding 1 cup of the warm chicken stock. When the rice absorbed most of the first installment of stock, I added additional stock in 1/2 cup increments, allowing the rice to absorb the stock after each addition before adding another. After about 20 minutes, the rice was perfectly al dente and creamy.
While the risotto was still steaming hot, I added 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. After pulling the risotto from the heat, I whipped it like a mad man before pouring it into a buttered sheet pan and sliding it into the refrigerator to chill and set.
Instead of simply coating the meatballs with a fabulous bourbon glaze, I bourbonized them through and through.
After heating 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a large saute pan over a medium flame until the oil started to shimmer, I tumbled 2 1/2 cups finely sliced candy onions into the hot pan, showered them with salt to release their juices, reduced the heat to medium low, and let the onions go low and slow for about 35 minutes. When the onions were on the brink of caramelizing, I pulled the saute pan off of the heat, added 1/2 cup Bulleit bourbon, returned the pan to heat, flamed the bourbon, allowed the flames to subside, and added 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar along with 1/3 cup brown sugar before reducing the heat and letting the onions rip until they melted into sexy strands of sticky bourbon-spiked onion candy.
After pulling the caramelized onions from the heat, I minced half of the onions (reserved the other half) and set them aside.
Where’s the beef?
After feathering 1 pound Jerod’s grass-fed ground beef into a large mixing bowl, I added 1/2 cup of the minced bourbon onions, 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 egg yolk, a splash of fresh bourbon, 1 minced garlic clove, salt, and cracked black pepper. Being mindful not to over mix the meat, I gently combined the ingredients, rolled the mixture into 3/4″ meatballs, and placed them onto a greased sheet pan before sliding them into a preheated 350 oven. When they were cooked through (about 15 minutes), I pulled them from the oven and set them aside to cool.
Wrap it up.
When the bourbon balls were cool enough to handle, I pulled the chilled risotto from the fridge, flattened about 3 tablespoons of risotto in the palm of my hand to about 1/4″ thickness, wrapped the bourbon balls in a layer of risotto, sealed the balls within the risotto, rolled them until smooth, and set them aside.
Flour. Egg wash. Crumb.
Dry hand. Wet Hand.
After dredging the arancini in seasoned flour, I dipped them egg wash, rolled them through herb-flecked fresh breadcrumbs, and carefully dropped them into a preheated 360 degree deep fryer.
When they turned golden brown, I pulled them from the oil to drain on paper towels.
While still warm, I tumbled the crispy bourbon balls onto fresh basil leaves nestled over the reserved caramelized onions and pierced them with bamboo basil picks before finishing with flaked sea salt, and quick-pickled Stonehedge hot chilies.
Raise a glass!
And have a ball.
This article also appears on page 10 of the September 2018 print edition of Ace.
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