Food for Thought

Eating my bourbon: A diet any Mad Men could appreciate

Eating my bourbon: A diet any Mad Men could appreciate

I’m pretty sure the first alcoholic drink I ever had was a sip of Dad’s beer when I was a kid. But it was Dad’s other drink, bourbon, that has become my go-to drink. Sure, I like wine, particularly the sparkling kind, and I’ve flirted with vodka but it’s bourbon I always come back to: Bourbon and sparkling water, bourbon and iced tea, bourbon and bourbon.

But now I know that I like to eat it as well as drink it.

Bourbon is as American as apple pie, and you could probably put a little bourbon in that pie recipe. It’s liquor only made in America and, by law, has to be 51 percent corn. That’s right, there are bourbon laws, and you don’t want to go running afoul of the law.

While there’s always a bottle of bourbon in my cupboard, the only time I’ve ever really used it in cooking is to rub a little over some steaks before grilling. Bourbon has a faint flavor of caramel, vanilla, charcoal, and a very light taste of wood, that adds to most meats.

And, apparently, to a lot of other dishes.


“My mom was a bourbon drinker, so by extension I am, too,” chef Monica Pope told me at last week’s Houston Chowhounds bourbon throwdown at Branch Water Tavern. Pope, a contestant this season on Top Chef Masters, threw down with some pulled pork made with Maker’s Mark, the bourbon sponsor of the competition.

In fact, most of the chefs used the alcohol to flavor pork and short ribs — like chef Mark Cox — although Pesce’s Mark Holley tried it on scallops and Rebecca Masson even mixed it with ice cream.

And then Branch Water’s chef/partner David Grossman just went nuts with the bourbon.

“I was inspired by molecular gastronomy,” Grossman said. “And using all natural products.”

Like some kind of mad food scientist, Grossman carefully extracted the inside of a yoke with a syringe then replaced it with a reduction of Maker’s Mark and chicken stock. Atop this spoonful of taste was a crumble of bourbon infused bacon. Of course, this boozy dish won the competition, but don’t look for it to be on the regular menu. Grossman says it’s too labor intensive and too many chick embryos had to be tossed, collapsing during the extraction process.

“I do cook some with bourbon,” he said. “Maybe not as much as I should. I have a sweet spot for bourbon and our food stands up to the big flavor of bourbon. But personally, I’d rather just drink it.”

A comment echoed by Marker’s Mark’s president, Bill Samuels Jr., who was in town a few days later to introduce the new Maker’s 46, a really smooth sippin’ liquor.

“It took me 20 years to just figure out how to make a Manhattan,” Samuels lamented. “So I no, I don’t cook. My wife, Nancy, does use some in pulled pork and barbecue, but mostly we just drink it.”

And while I’ll drink to that (and I usually do) there are a few really good uses for bourbon, from bourbon balls to Mississippi mud cake and, of course, a really good barbecue sauce or a tasty steak rub. Pretty much any recipe that uses brandy can also be revamped to use bourbon. And best of all, the amount of bourbon you’ll use in cooking is pretty small, leaving plenty for cocktails while you cook.

It’s just like cooking with wine, one shot for the pot, two in the glass. Trust me, dinner will turn out just fine.

News_Marene Gustin_Maker's_whiskey_bourbon
A key ingredient Photo by Ralph Smith
News_Marene Gustin_Mark Cox's_5-space_infused_bourbon_braised_BBQ pork_shortrib_sandwich
Mark Cox's Five Spice-infused, Bourbon-Braised Barbecue Pork Shortrib Sandwich Photo by Ralph Smith
News_Marene Gustin_Rebecca Masson's_maple_leaf_ice_cream_sandwich
Rebecca Masson's Maple Leaf Ice Cream Sandwich Photo by Ralph Smith
News_Marene Gustin_David Grossman's Bourbon_bacon_eggs
David Grossman's Bourbon "Bacon & Eggs" Photo by Ralph Smith
News_Marene Gustin_Makers 46
Maker's 46 Photo by Kimberly Park