Cooking with bourbon

Bourbon is one of the most versatile liquors to have in your collection.
Bourbon is one of the most versatile liquors to have in your collection. Photo: Supplied

Bourbon's versatility has long made it a bartenders' favourite and the cornerstone of many great cocktails.

It's unsurprising therefore that the spirit is increasingly finding favour with chefs, both in sweet and savoury applications.

Bourbon is unique in the broader whisk(e)y family for its mash bill requiring a minimum of 51 per cent corn, with the remainder being any combination of rye, wheat and malted barley.

The spirit must also be aged in newly charred American white oak barrels, over which time it absorbs caramelised sugars from the charred wood.

These ingredients and production process create myriad flavours and aromas that delight the bourbon drinker: Vanilla, caramel, toffee, citrus, pome, spice – even light smoke.

Such attributes are like a veritable toolbox in the kitchen, having obvious synergies with sweet desserts, confectionary and cakes.

This certainly won't be news to folks in Kentucky, who have been enjoying bourbon balls at festive times for many decades.

The bite-sized treats are comprised simply of dark chocolate, crushed wafers, sugar, butter and pecans that have been soaked in bourbon.

As legend has it, the original recipe was created by Kentuckian confectioner Ruth Hanly Booe after a local dignitary remarked that there was no better flavour combination than a bite of her chocolate followed by a sip of bourbon. 


Other traditional recipes in the spirit's homeland include bread pudding with bourbon sauce, as well as Kentucky Derby Pie; similar to pecan pie in execution but instead containing walnuts, chocolate and bourbon.

But today's chefs are not bound by tradition and bourbon is increasingly showing up in a wide range of dessert recipes.

The spirit contributes richness and depth for more sophisticated, adult versions of butterscotch pudding, banana cream pie or cobbler, a cake-like mix of milk, sugar, and self-raising flour poured on top of fruit.

Bourbon is also a popular addition to add richness and complexity to the sweet, smokey sauces that complement the salty, spicy succulent meats cooked low and slow in American-style barbecue.

Similarly, it can bolster marinades for wings or ribs, or deliver a major flavour hit to the glazing on a meatloaf, or roast pork or turkey. It's also a great tool for upping the intensity of braising liquid for lamb shoulder or brisket.

At The Beatrice Inn in New York City, visionary chef Angie Mar has created a 167-day whiskey-aged rib steak.

The innovative technique provides an alternative to dry ageing, instead maturing the meat in bourbon-soaked cloths, using the spirit to flavour and tenderise it.

Bourbon could be the secret ingredient in your beef chilli recipe, with its rich caramel sweetness complementing the dish's savoury, spicy character.

And its use in cooking need not be an afternoon or evening-only affair. Deftly stirring bourbon over heat with maple syrup and spices will make a more serious accompaniment for French toast or pancakes, ensuring a truly decadent brunch.

Having a grilled chicken salad? Consider what a little bourbon could do to lift a honey mustard dressing, in place of balsamic.

The spirit's applications are as unlimited in the kitchen as they are behind the bar, so choose your bourbon and get cooking.

For a truly unique twist on your favourite recipes, consider a unique whiskey such as Wild Turkey Bourbon, which is distilled and put into barrels at a much lower alcohol volume than most other bourbons. 

This results in a much richer flavour, as less is cooked out during the production process. Ageing in the highest quality new American White Oak barrels with the deepest char available (the No. 4 "alligator" char) imparts a smooth flavour and deep amber colour to the whiskey. 

Wild Turkey is one of the only brands on the market that implements this process of ageing to create premium bourbon, and it is definitely the only product distilled by the legendary Eddie Russell.

The son of legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, Eddie is the third generation Russell to work at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Like his father, Eddie is involved through the entire distillation and aging process of Wild Turkey's whiskeys, ensuring every bottle meets the exacting standards set forth by their predecessors.

Wild Turkey Bourbon recently unveiled Master's Keep 1894, the latest release in its limited edition Master's Keep series that honours Rickhouse A – the oldest rickhouse (warehouse) of the famed Wild Turkey estate.

With layers of toffee and honey that give way to fruity notes of candied pear, stewed apples, spice, subtle oak and vanilla, before delivering a long, lingering and caramel finish, Master's Keep 1894 will delight enthusiasts of super-premium bourbon.

This article brought to you by Wild Turkey