By Nancy Miller
Photos by Jolea Brown
Anoosh Shariat had never cooked with bourbon before he moved from Texas to Louisville in 1988. He was a quick learner, immediately embracing Kentucky’s bourbon culture and creating dishes in which the spirit enlivens other ingredients and imparts a distinctive character.
He doesn’t shy away from using bourbon in his cooking all year at his restaurants, Anoosh Bistro, characterized by its Mediterranean and Southern-influenced menu, and the New American Noosh Nosh. He especially likes to recognize the spirit in September, Bourbon Heritage Month.
“I had always cooked with brandy, but once in Kentucky, I discovered that, although bourbon is a little bolder, it is a wonderful substitute for brandy. When you use bourbon the right way, it’s an easy transition,” he says. One of the first dishes in which he used bourbon was his Bibb salad with bourbon vinaigrette. The salad, with Kentucky Bibb, Capriole goat cheese, apples and black walnuts, will soon be making a reappearance on the Anoosh Bistro menu.
That “right way” to use bourbon shines through in Noosh Nosh’s baked Brie with bourbon maple syrup and red wine pear jam and French toast with Pappy Van Winkle syrup.
At Anoosh Bistro, bourbon plays a key role in a few dishes—the bourbon-smoked prime rib and the white chocolate bread pudding. Throughout September, Anoosh Bistro will run specials of dishes prepared with bourbon. You might want to accompany one of those with a bourbon craft cocktail. If you have trouble deciding which one, try the Kentucky Buck, which has bourbon, strawberries, ginger syrup and mint.
Bourbon profiles run the gamut of tastes and aromas, which invites pairing with many foods. “Bourbons that have a maple sugar flavor are delicious in Bananas Foster. Early on, I switched out bourbon for the brandy and some of the rum. I used the high alcohol content rum just for flaming. The bourbon with the sugar and banana made great caramel,” says Shariat.
When you’re cooking with bourbon, can you get by with using the cheap stuff? Not if the chef is looking over your shoulder. He reaches for bourbon that has been aged four or more years. Follow his lead and you’ll have a dish full of flavor and you will have poured less bourbon.
As long as you cook with a quality bourbon, the brand is up to you. When cooking, use the same bourbon you drink (as long as it’s not Pappy!). The base of Old Forester, Maker’s Mark and Heaven Hill are three of his favorites. You don’t need to use a lot of it to enrich a dish. If you’re making a sauce, use bourbon at the beginning, then add a few drops to wake up the flavors since the alcohol will have cooked off.
Here’s an idea to jump start your foray into cooking with bourbon: butternut squash ravioli with pecan butter finished with bourbon. He guarantees the nuttiness and the sweet will match well with the smokiness of bourbon. Another vegetarian dish that’s accentuated with bourbon is Shariat’s mushroom stew. And if you want quick and easy, brush a little bourbon soy sauce on tofu.
Julia Child was fond of taking a few sips of wine in between chopping and sautéing. You might find you can get head over heels into cooking with bourbon if you allow yourself the occasional sip. Not that Shariat does. “I don’t participate in sipping while I cook because I would forget what I’ve done,” he laughs. VT