Bourbon has long been a popular cooking ingredient, especially in Kentucky. Its flavor profile reveals hints of molasses, caramel, vanilla, pecans, cinnamon, licorice and brown sugar, which makes bourbon an ideal ingredient for enhancing the natural flavors in a variety of foods.
Predominant flavors in bourbon can be directly attributed to the qualities of the wood used for aging, David Domine wrote in Splash of Bourbon, Kentucky's Spirit. "Tastes such as those of the oak (barrel) itself, the vanilla produced by the heated wood, and the sweet notes derived from caramelized wood sugars all lend bourbon its one-of-a-kind character and subtlety," Domine wrote.
His book is one of three cookbooks published this year on Kentucky's most celebrated beverage. He joins Albert W.A. Schmid, who wrote The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook, and Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler, authors of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book.
Schmid, a master chef who teaches at Sullivan University's National Center for Hospitality Studies in Louisville, said, "At culinary schools all over the nation, instructors teach their students that to have a high-quality finished product, a chef must start with ingredients of the highest quality. Bourbon is the highest-quality whiskey in the world. Nothing is added to bourbon except pure water."
Reigler is a former Courier-Journal restaurant critic and beverage writer. "Almost any dish that involves traditional Southern ingredients, such as country ham or pork or chicken and uses a cream sauce will benefit from a generous splash of bourbon in the sauce," she said. "I make chicken and country ham crepes in which I line the crepes with a slice of country ham and then add sautéed chicken. I bake the crepes and dress them with a bourbon cream sauce.
"I also suspect that I'm not the only Kentucky cook who routinely substitutes bourbon in certain recipes that call for vanilla," Reigler said. "The strong vanilla character in most bourbon works very well, and I get the added dimensions of subtle caramel and fruit.
When Domine began work on Splash of Bourbon, he said, "There wasn't much out there except for a book or two dedicated to one specific bourbon. And most of the recipes dealt with bourbon in desserts and as a marinade or in sauces. I wanted to write something that showed how versatile bourbon is, that you can use it in soups, salads, breads, appetizers, sides and main courses, not just sweet things."
Each recipe in Domine's book includes recommended bourbons to use. For baking cakes, try a bourbon with lots of vanilla, such as Wild Turkey Rare Breed or Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, he said. Domine also provides background information and history for all eight of the distilleries along the Bourbon Trail.
For purists, Sandra Davis' That Special Touch, which was published in 1990, remains one of the most popular bourbon cookbooks on the market. The full-color publication features recipes using Maker's Mark.