8 Traditional Kentucky Foods to Serve for the Derby

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When you think of the Kentucky Derby, you probably envision women in elaborate hats and sundresses, men in seersucker suits, and barrels of bourbon for all. You’re not wrong, of course, but for the Southerners who call the Bluegrass State home, the foods and drinks served that first Saturday in May are as worthy of celebrating as the race itself. We’ve rounded up eight of these timeless classics, along with recipe variations that honor the original flavors but add a novel twist. Consider this your complete guide to eating like a horse come Derby day.

1. MINT JULEP

Celebrating the Run for the Roses? The classic Derby cocktail is a non-negotiable. The recipe itself is straightforward—muddled mint, simple syrup, and bourbon over crushed ice—but that doesn’t mean you can’t jazz it up with jalapeños, fruit (try a version with peaches or blackberries), or even beer and basil. No matter which version you choose, make sure it includes crushed—not cubed—ice. The slushier the drink, the more delicious it is.

2. KENTUCKY HOT BROWN

This open-faced sandwich was first served in 1926 at Louisville’s historic Brown Hotel and has since become a regional favorite, appearing on the menus of many local restaurants. Sliced turkey and bacon are layered on top of thick bread, then covered in cheesy Mornay sauce and broiled until the bread crisps and the sauce browns. The hotel still serves its signature dish to this day; re-create their recipe, or try a twist on tradition with this adaptation, which reimagines the sammy as a savory tart. If you’re looking to feed a crowd, hot-brown sliders are the perfect party-sized bites.

3. BENEDICTINE SPREAD

Light and refreshing, this spread, which stars cucumbers, onions, and cream cheese, can be spread onto white bread and served as tea sandwiches, or placed out as a dip for vegetables and crackers. The original recipe, created around the turn of the 20th century in Louisville by famed caterer Jennie Benedict, calls for a few drops of green food coloring, but most chefs nowadays prefer to leave out artificial ingredients. It’s a simple recipe, which also means it’s ripe for interpretations. This rendition achieves the green coloring with spinach and adds a kick with green garlic. Dress up the spread even more by sprinkling crumbled bacon or herbs on top.

4. BEER CHEESE

This cheesy dip, best served with warm, soft pretzels, originated in the 1930s in—you guessed it—Kentucky. It’s so ubiquitous in the region that most natives don’t realize it’s not really a thing elsewhere in the U.S. But it should be! There, the gooey goodness appears on most bar menus and packaged versions are sold in grocery stores. While it’s gained popularity in other parts of the country in recent years, you’ll probably still have to whip up your own for your Derby party. Here’s a straightforward version that pairs a full-bodied beer with cheddar, Worcestershire, mustard, and hot sauce. Or go whole hog and make it a main meal, like this recipe for beer-cheese soup.

5. COUNTRY HAM BISCUITS

Salty, cured ham sliced thin, fried, and then layered between buttery biscuits—there might not be a more indulgent Southern specialty that makes the rounds at Derby parties each year. The Louisville food writer Steve Coomes likens country ham, produced mostly in Kentucky and neighboring Southern states, to “hillbilly prosciutto,” and it’s just as mouth-watering uncooked as it is pan-fried. For an update on the classic, slather baked tea biscuits with flavored mustard or butter blends before sandwiching ham slices in between. Can’t get your hands on a ham in time for the party? Make a simplified version with finely diced store-bought ham and mix it into the biscuit batter with a smattering of cheddar cheese before baking.

6. BOURBON BALLS

These boozy bite-sized treats—first devised in 1936 by Ruth Booe, co-founder of the Rebecca Ruth Candy Co. in Frankfort, Kentucky—can be rolled in powdered sugar or dipped in melted chocolate and topped with pecan halves; on the inside, the creamy center usually consists of some combination of bourbon, sugar, butter, chopped pecans, and semisweet chocolate. For a more unique presentation that preserves that sweet, boozy goodness, try a bourbon-ball trifle that layers chocolate cake with bourbon-laced pudding and mascarpone.

7. KENTUCKY BURGOO

A hearty meat stew, burgoo is most often made with chicken, beef, and lamb simmered with vegetables, beans, tomatoes, Worcestershire, sorghum or molasses, ketchup, vinegar, and spices. Nineteenth-century versions of burgoo served around the South frequently included squirrel, opossum, and rabbit, and was gently simmered and stirred for up to 24 hours. While we applaud the stamina of those early chefs, these days a good burgoo can be made in four to six hours. That’s still a commitment, to be sure, but the results—spicy, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food—are worth it. Like gumbo, burgoo has many variations; we’re partial to this one, which uses bourbon in the stock.

8. CHOCOLATE-BOURBON NUT PIE

Though all Kentuckians refer to this confection of chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, and bourbon as “derby pie,” you’ll never see it appear as such in cookbooks, thanks to the aggressively litigious Kern family, who originated the recipe in 1950 and later trademarked the name Derby-Pie™. Whatever you call it, though, it’s become a staple in Kentucky kitchens everywhere, especially at Derby time. You can still order the trademarked version through the Kern’s Kitchen website, but it’s easy enough to whip up your own rendition. Traditionalists will tell you that you have to use walnuts as the nut of choice in the filling, but pecans are often substituted, making the derby dessert essentially a pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon. This version, cleverly known as “Not Derby Pie Bars” tones down the sweetness a bit and reinvents the basic flavors as brownie-like bars.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

The Reason You Should Never Rinse a Turkey

jax10289/iStock via Getty Images
jax10289/iStock via Getty Images

There are many misconceptions surrounding your Thanksgiving turkey, but none is more dangerous than the turkey-washing myth. Raw poultry can contain dangerous microbes like Salmonella, and it's not uncommon for home cooks to rinse their meat under cool water in an effort to wash away these pathogens. The intention may be admirable, but this is a worse turkey sin than overcooking your bird or carving it before letting it rest. According to AOL, rinsing a raw turkey with water is more likely to make you and your dinner guests sick than not cleaning it at all.

When you wash a turkey in the sink, there's no guarantee that all of the nasty stuff on the outside of it is going down the drain. In fact, the only thing rinsing does is spread potentially harmful microbes around. In addition to getting bacteria on you hands and clothes, rinsing can contaminate countertops, sink handles, and even the surrounding air.

There are three main ways to lower your chances of contracting Salmonella when dealing with raw turkey: Thaw your bird in the fridge, minimize contact with it before it goes into the oven, and give it plenty of time to cook once it's in there. For the second part, that means setting aside time to pat your turkey dry, remove the excess fat and skin, and season it without handling anything else. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, wash your hands frequently and wash the plates, knives, and other tools that touched the turkey before using them again. You should also cook your stuffing outside the turkey rather than shoving it inside the cavity and creating a Salmonella bomb.

Once the safety aspect is taken care of, you can focus on making your turkey taste as delicious as possible. Here are some tips from professional chefs on making your starring dish shine this Thanksgiving.

[h/t AOL]

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