Food & Drink

When used in cooking, bourbon infuses food with its flavor

All it takes is 2 tablespoons of bourbon to change the flavor profile of sweet potato pie.
All it takes is 2 tablespoons of bourbon to change the flavor profile of sweet potato pie.

As the commonwealth celebrates with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown this week, we look at the culinary power of bourbon.

Sure, there's nothing wrong with drinking your bourbon with some mint and simple syrup or sipping it straight up, but bourbon also adds flavor to cakes and pies, livens up salad dressings, enhances the tang of a meat marinade, and even jazzes up a hot dog.

As we celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (it runs through Sunday; go to, let's think about adding a few more splashes of bourbon to our meals.

In her new book Bourbon: A Savor of the South Cookbook, Kathleen Purvis writes, "If you're going to use bourbon in food, you have to let the bourbon taste like bourbon."

Because bourbon has so many flavor notes, it goes well with just about any food, she said.

"It has smokiness and earthiness, a peppery character, a natural sweetness, and a caramel, vanilla flavor. It loves oranges and apples, and it plays well with mushrooms and wild salmon," said Purvis, food editor at The Charlotte Observer. Her cookbook includes 54 recipes and looks at the history of bourbon. Purvis said she prefers to cook with a standard bourbon that's reliable in flavor and reasonably priced.

"Why cook with something that costs $30 or $40 a bottle?" she said.

Jeremy Ashby, chef at Azur Restaurant in Beaumont Centre, said he thinks bourbon is for drinking, not cooking, but when he does use it in a recipe it's to "finish" the recipe. "Cooking it down hides all the flavor. Finishing allows that raw bite and the years of work it took to get ready, shine," he said.These recipes will soak up a bottle or two of bourbon.


Free range chicken with bourbon and mission figs

1 large free-range chicken, cut into pieces, about 4 pounds

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

5 cups fresh mission figs, quartered

2 cups bourbon

1⁄3 cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pat chicken pieces dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large iron skillet over medium-high heat and brown chicken. Once all the chicken has been browned, add shallot, figs, bourbon, vinegar and brown sugar to pan. Simmer over very low heat for 45 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Source: Splash of Bourbon: Kentucky's Spirit by David Domine

Bourbon sweet potato pie

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 large)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons bourbon

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon find-ground sea salt

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 10-inch store-bought graham cracker crust

Ginger whipped cream (recipe follows)

Toasted pecans, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and dry sweet potatoes. With a fork, prick sweet potatoes all over about six times. Set sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Roast until soft and you can see bits of sugar bubbling where you pricked the potato, about 1 hour. Reduce heat to 375 degrees.

Cool, peel and measure out 2 generous cups of cooked sweet potato. Remove flesh to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the "s" blade; purée until smooth. While the motor is running, add butter to soften sweet potatoes. Add eggs. You will notice sweet potatoes start to take on a lighter, almost peachy color.

In a small bowl, combine cream, bourbon and vanilla extract. Add to sweet potato mixture as machine is running. It will look light and fluffy at this point. Scrape the sides and add the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt and cloves. Purée to combine. The sugar and spices will darken the color a bit, but the texture will remain very fluffy.

Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and place on a cookie sheet. Bake until filling is set, about 40 minutes. To test, shake the pie; the center of the pie should jiggle slightly. If you aren't sure, stick a toothpick or a butter knife in the center; if it comes out clean, the pie is done. Let cool and then chill thoroughly before serving. Serve with ginger whipped cream and toasted pecans. Makes 10 servings.

To make ginger whipped cream: Combine 1/2 pint heavy whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger. With electric mixer or whisk, whip until cream is thick and stiff.

From North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

Burgers with caramelized onions, Gruyère and horseradish

For the burger:

4 beef patties (6 ounces each)

4 slices Gruyère cheese

4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

Salt and pepper to taste

For the caramelize d onions:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

4 ounces Knob Creek bourbon

To make burgers: Season burgers liberally with salt and pepper. Place burgers on grill and cook to preferred doneness. Add cheese. Once cheese is melted, place burger on toasted bun, top with onions and fresh horseradish, then serve. Makes 4 servings.

To caramelize onions: In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat butter until melted over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and slowly cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until onions become golden. Turn up heat to medium high and add bourbon. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes and place on burgers.

From chef Michael Symon for Knob Creek Bourbon

Pan-seared salmon with chipotle honey-lime bourbon glaze

Salt and pepper

4 salmon fillets

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup honey

½ cup bourbon

½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder

1 teaspoon lime juice

Candied lime zest

Salt and pepper the salmon. Melt butter in a skillet. Place salmon in skillet skin-side-up and sear 1 to 2 minutes. Remove it from skillet and set aside.

To make glaze: Add honey, bourbon, chili powder and lime juice to the skillet and whisk these ingredients together; heat them on low. Let glaze thicken slightly; return salmon to the pan and cook the mixture 3 to 5 minutes. or until salmon is light pink inside. Drizzle glaze over salmon and garnish with the candied lime zest. Makes 4 servings.

From The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook by Albert W.A. Schmid

Bourbon pimento cheese

2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons bourbon

1 jar (2 ounces) diced pimentos, drained

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon salt

Crackers or celery sticks for serving

Combine cheese, butter and bourbon in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until it forms a paste. Beat in pimentos, garlic, Tabasco, cayenne pepper and salt. Pack into a crock, cover and chill until ready to use. Makes 2 cups.

From Bourbon by Kathleen Purvis