Why I Love The Kentucky Derby (or Another Excuse To Wear A Bowler Hat)Posted: May 3, 2012
I would hardly call myself a degenerate gambler (can someone say denial), but I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures in life is playing the ponies during the Kentucky Derby each year. Even though I enjoy gambling, for me, the Derby means more than betting a sawbuck on people riding horses in circles. It also means unique food and drink…and lots of it.
During the Derby, the local population in Kentucky holds Derby parties that feature traditional foods, stiff drinks and flamboyant hats. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? It’s less common around the rest of the country so here is your excuse to throw a party during the void that fills the first weekend in May.
Now, I know you’re going to say, What about Cinco de Mayo? I agree that it’s certainly a great occasion to celebrate (and falls on the same day this year), but a Derby party is a more interesting event and less common…and you do have the rest of the summer to drink margaritas. How often will you have the occasion to drink mint juleps?
So, now you have this irresistible idea to be the envy of your friends and throw your own Derby party, but what do you serve? Well, there certainly are traditional Southern dishes such as ham and biscuits with sawmill gravy. However, why not opt for more traditional Derby faire. Here’s a short list of those dishes and a quick description:
- Hot Brown – The dish that sounds like the title of a 70s porno may be a little more PG rated, but is just as oozing and seductive. Originally made in The Brown Hotel in Kentucky in the 1920s, it is an open-faced sandwich including turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread gets crispy and the sauce becomes golden brown. I don’t think I need to say anything more about this one. If you’re not tantalized yet, you can’t be my friend.
- Burgoo- The beauty of this dish is that there is no real recipe so you can make it however you want. Please don’t ask about the origins of the name because there is no definitive answer. There are only a few basic considerations when making this stew:
- Since it’s a community-inspired dish where people would visit neighbors and bring whatever they had available, you can use a variety of meats, including mutton, beef, chicken, even rabbit.
- Add an assortment of corn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and okra. Be generous since these will probably be the only veggies you serve at the party.
- Now add various spices and Worcestershire sauce according to your taste.
- Cook it low and slow until its think enough to hold a spoon upright in the middle and most ingredients are unrecognizable.
- Derby Pie® – Another food that is a double entendre, being gooey and nutty resulting in much moaning and groaning. It was first created over 50 years ago at the Melrose Inn in Kentucky and the name has actually been trademarked. It includes a light and flaky crust with a walnut and chocolate filling. On top is a heaping pile of whipped cream. It is cloyingly sweet, so be prepared for a trip to the dentist post consumption. It can be ordered online here if you want the original. http://www.derbypie.com/buypie.html
If I haven’t offended you and you’re still reading, now it’s onto something that holds a special place in my heart (yes, brown liquor). It may not be your thing, but I personally believe that the mint julep is the most underrated cocktail if made correctly.
Ok, so what’s so great about this cocktail? In short, it is simplicity in a glass. All you need is some bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint. Stuff some crushed ice into a glass (or more traditionally a pewter cup) on top of a heaping bunch of mint. Drizzle on simple syrup, pour a generous shot of bourbon atop and there you have it. Some like to muddle the mint, but I prefer a clean drink and just place the mint on the bottom of the glass.
I will admit that you need to know the right technique when making this drink, such as letting the ice dilute the mixture a bit since it is very strong, and if you’re using a pewter cup, ensuring the drink gets so frigid that a perma-frost forms on the outside of the cup. If your fingers freeze to the cup, you’ve achieved mint julep perfection.
I hope you agree that the Kentucky Derby is a special time – and maybe you have become inspired to hold your own Derby party. I mean, who wouldn’t want an excuse to wear a Derby hat. Though it may not be as flashy as the typical Derby hat, here is the one I’ll be wearing this year (yes, a real derby). This weekend look for me in Park City at the High West Distillery clutching onto a worthless ticket in one hand, a mint julep in the other, and sobbing like a baby.
If you have any interesting ideas for your Derby party, please share them below.
Good luck and happy eating.