Host Your Own Kentucky Derby Party: Essential Race-Day Grub
Giddy up, party girls! The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and even if you won’t be cheering on the horsies at Churchill Downs, you can throw a propah Southern Derby soirée like a pro. So, get ready and get set for our Derby party grub guide: mint juleps, creamy cheddar grits, Benedictine, and fried chicken.Mint Juleps
At the track, race-goers start downing mammoth Mint Juleps shortly after sunrise. I do not suggest that. But no Derby party is complete without some version of the day’s notoriously strong signature drink.
We got the following recipe from Kentucky-based bourbon brand Maker’s Mark.
- 1-liter Maker’s Mark®
- Lots of fresh spearmint leaves
- 1-cup water
- 1-cup granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar for garnish
- Mint sprigs for garnish
- To prepare the mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves to wash and place in a small mixing bowl. Cover with three ounces of Maker’s Mark. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in a clean, soap-free piece of cotton cloth and vigorously wring the mint bundle over the bowl of whiskey. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Set aside.
- To prepare the simple syrup, mix one cup of granulated sugar and one cup of water in a cooking pot. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
- To prepare the mint julep mixture, pour three cups of Maker’s Mark into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. (Pour the remaining whiskey from the liter bottle into another container and save it for another purpose). Add one cup of the simple syrup to the Maker’s Mark.
- Now, begin adding the mint extract one tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You may have to leave the room a time or two to clear your nose. The tendency is to use too much mint. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste—generally about three tablespoons.
- When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to “marry” the flavors.
- To serve the mint julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then pack in more ice to about an inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to one inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
- When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Then serve.
Creamy Cheddar Grits
I refer to a lot of Kentucky food as “mush.” It’s just basically some kind of bread-like thing, cheese and maybe meat melted together. These grits definitely fall into the mush category. But hey, mush is savory and delish and a Derby party without some kind of mush is unacceptable. The Food Network provided this recipe:
- 1 cup grated, sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup raw grits
- 4 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Pinch cayenne
- 4 ounces butter
- 4 eggs, separated
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Grease a two-quart souffle dish well and sprinkle two tablespoons of the cheese around the sides and bottom of the dish.
- Cook the grits in the milk with the salt until done. Add the pepper, cayenne, butter, cheese, and egg yolks to the grits. Stir well and let cool.
- Whip the egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into the grits mixture. Pour into the prepared souffle dish and bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
This creamy light green spread is an essential condiment on Derby Day, either with crackers or in tea sandwiches. It looks weird, but trust me, it’s quite tasty. If there are any Kentuckians in the house, they will be in awe of your authenticity. I’m sure Southern comfort cook Paula Deen must make awesome Benedictine. Here’s her recipe:
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Dash hot pepper sauce
- 1 drop green food coloring
- Thinly sliced white bread
- Parsley or watercress, for garnish
- Peel cucumber and slice in half lengthwise; remove seeds with a small spoon.
- Place cucumber in a food processor and pulse about 5 times, until cucumber is minced.
- Place cucumber into a small glass mixing bowl. Place onion in the food processor, pulsing until it is finely chopped.
- Add onion to cucumber. Add cream cheese and stir well with a spatula. Add salt, hot sauce, and food coloring.
- With a round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut rounds out of bread slices
- Spread a small amount of mayonnaise on bread rounds. Spread cheese mixture on half the rounds and top with another round. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or watercress.
After all this julep mixing and grits baking, you’ll be pooped. Don’t bother frying your own bird—just pick up a bucket or six at your local fried chicken franchise. It’s been trying to pass itself off as KFC for years, but we all know it’s really Kentucky Fried Chicken. You should not be without biscuits, mashed potatoes, gravy and buckets and buckets of finger-licking goodness at your Derby Party. Colonel Sanders would weep with pride. If he wasn’t dead.