Bourbon. As deeply carved into the American landscape as George Washington is into Mount Rushmore; as iconic of the American palate as hamburgers, fried chicken and apple pie. Bourbon, to beat the dead mule, is as quintessential to the American spirit as the presentation of homecoming queen at a football game’s half-time, Super Bowl Sunday, and opening day of baseball season.
My favorite go-to mixologist, Lucy Carneghi, thinks bourbon should be served at baseball games instead of beer, and insists it’s the perfect complement to apple pie. She tells me that bourbon is wonderfully democratic because it’s not constrained by geography or region in our country, but rather by method. “Anyone could make it if they want to,” Lucy says.
As Champagne’s name is protected under rules of the French appellation, so too the name bourbon in our country. What began life in Bourbon, Kentucky, the spirit’s legal definition, according to Wikipedia, “…varies somewhat from country to country, but many trade agreements require the name bourbon to be reserved for products made in the United States. The U.S. regulations for labeling and advertising bourbon apply only to products made for consumption within the United States; they do not apply to distilled spirits made for export.”
Bourbon is truly an American whiskey, most familiar served straight, diluted with water over ice, or crafted into cocktails such as Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Mint Juleps. I love using the whiskey in recipes, so what could be more appropriate than serving a bourbon-themed menu on Memorial Day?
Bourbon is delicious when used as a component in marinades and barbecue sauces for beef, pork, and assertive-flavored fish. It’s also marvelous in lending complexity and umph to desserts, jams, preserves and eggnogs, balancing the sweetness. Like beer and wine, I use less expensive bourbons in recipes that will be exposed to direct flame, and the more expensive bourbons when baking and finishing off a recipe.
By law bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn, about 10 percent barley, with rye or wheat to balance the brew. When the balance is predominantly rye, the bourbon is known as ryed bourbon, which tends to be intense and spicy; when wheat, the brew is usually sweeter, mild and mellow. Some say the flavor profile is similar to the difference between eating a rye or wheat bread.
I used an inexpensive bourbon, Ezra Brooks, for the marinade in the recipe below; the flame obliterates the nuances of top-drawer and fine aged bourbons. I save brands such as Elijah Craig, Makers Mark 46, Bulleit and Redemption High Rye (my favorites) for baking, finishing dishes and special cocktails, as in the Whiskey Juleps recipe below.
Flat iron, like skirt or flank steak, is a lean cut of meat that is much more tender and flavorful when marinated. My experience has been these cuts of beef require at least a 4-hour marinade (but never longer than 24 hours) to hit the tenderness sweet spot. Also, they are best served rare to medium-rare. If cooked to medium or well-done, the lean cuts become too chewy for my palate.
Seems to me a potato salad made with a whisper of your finest bourbon, would be a grand accompaniment to the beef and juleps. Follow with a Bourbon & Sweet Potato Pecan Pie and you’ll be hoisting the flag with a salute; a memorable tribute to the Red, White and Blue.
All-American bourbon; whose position in a library of libations is as a Chevrolet in a car show – but save the drink for after the drive.
(Check out Lucy’s Smokey Peach Julep, if so inclined. More complex to execute than what’s below but transcendental!)