With their endless stream of easy recipes and fun entertaining ideas, we thought these Southern transplants might know a thing or two about the Kentucky Derby, so we turned to them for a celebratory Derby Day party menu complete, of course, with their Perfect Mint Julep. Chef James was of course happy to oblige us, proper Southern gentleman that he is.
Holidays all Your Own
When Brooke and I got married we vowed to make our own traditions. Of course we’d still celebrate Valentine’s Day and Christmas but we wanted creative ways to keep our marriage fun and fresh throughout the year – and not just on the big holidays.
That's why our book, Just Married & Cooking, is full of cooking and entertaining ideas for couples who want to keep things exciting – and romantic – in the kitchen.
Kentucky Derby Celebration
Come May, we use the Kentucky Derby as a reason to throw a party, reconnect with old friends, and pull out our seersucker and fancy hats! These new traditions—the impromptu, off-the-beaten-path celebrations—have become part of the fabric of our marriage.
So take a page from our book: Gather your friends and throw a Kentucky Derby party of your own!
Bourbon Bourbon Bourbon
The heart of any good Derby Party is the bourbon and a great party gets the bourbon out from behind the bar and into the kitchen. Bourbon is a natural match for food and is often a go-to ingredient for many Southern chefs when a dish needs a certain-something-extra.
Cooking a traditional Southern dish of Bourbon-cured fish for your Derby Day bash is a cinch. Just follow our recipe for a bourbon brine, then throw in your fish – trout is great but mahi, swordfish, walleye or perch work well too. Grill your marinated fish until it’s just cooked through. For a little extra kick I splash a bit of fresh bourbon on the fish after it comes off the grill… I think of it as good luck for my horse!
Bourbon-Cured TroutServes 6 to 8
4 pan-dressed trout, or 8 boneless fillets
3 cups water
1 cup bourbon
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
4 cups ice cubes
Quickly rinse the trout under cold water and pat dry. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, while preparing the brine.
Combine the water, bourbon, salt, sugar, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaf in a medium saucepot. Bring the mixture to a boil so that the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and stir in the ice. Cool the mixture completely and pour over the trout. Leave the trout to brine in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.
Remove the trout from the brine and pat dry. Grill or broil skin side down for 3 to 5 minutes, until just cooked through. If cooking whole fish, turn once halfway through the cooking process.
The Next Level
Make your grilled trout into a killer crostini. To build this perfect bite, start with a toasted round of baguette, add a dollop of sour cream and then a cucumber slice. Rest a small piece of grilled trout on the cucumber and finish with a sprig of dill or a single parsley leaf.
And no Derby party is complete without a Mint Julep!
Make the food for your party as fancy or as simple as you want; but when it comes to the Mint Julep there’s no room for compromise. If you’re not certain you’re making a proper julep then chances are you’re not. For starter’s your straw is probably too long- did you know you’re supposed to enjoy the julep from a short straw so the big sprig of mint garnish tickles your nose forcing you to inhale the mint as you sip your bourbon? And your julep should have no more than 4 ingredients: sugar, ice, mint and bourbon. Check out our recipe for The Perfect Mint Julep.
The Perfect Mint Julep1 teaspoon superfine or granulated sugar
4 mint leaves
2 ounces Maker’s Mark bourbon
powdered sugar (optional)
Place the superfine sugar and mint leaves in a silver julep cup, and muddle to release the aroma of the mint. Add enough crushed ice to fill the cup halfway. Pour in the bourbon and stir until frost forms on the outside of the glass. Add more crushed ice until it is mounded just over the top of the cup.
Stick 3 or 4 mint sprigs into the center of the ice and insert a straw through the mint all the way to the bottom of the cup. Cut the straw off about 2 inches above the mint and dust the top with powdered sugar. Sipping a julep should be a dual sensory experience – the short straw makes the nose fill with the scent of mint while you taste the sweet bourbon.
Mint Julep Cup: If your family hasn’t passed down to you a set of century-old julep cups, chances are you don’t have any. No worries. Even without a proper julep cup, you can still make a great mint julep in a rocks glass. Just promise us, no red plastic cups. Ever.
James Briscione worked in the kitchens at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama and later with Chef Daniel Boulud in New York City. He was the first two-time winner of the Food Network’s competition “Chopped” and together with his wife, food writer Brooke Parkhurst, James teaches couples cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education and The Culinary Cooperative in New York City. Brooke and James’ first cookbook, Just Married and Cooking: 200 Recipes for Living, Eating and Entertaining Together, will be published by Scribner in May 20011. For more ideas check out www.justmarriedandcooking.com.
Tell us: Will you be watching the race with an icy mint julep in hand? We'd love to hear your plans for the Kentucky Derby below!