The Kentucky Derby, I’ve been told, is one of the most raucous, refined and exhilarating celebrations the city has to offer.
I’ve heard tell of achingly beautiful mornings at Churchill Downs’ backside, the infield’s high-octane insanity, the explosive magic of Thunder and Oaks Day, when the locals get dolled up and pack the track.
But sadly, the closest I’ve gotten to the Derby so far is the trackside dining scene. I didn’t grow up slathering tenderloin with Henry Bain sauce or munching on salty country ham sandwiched between layers of cracker-crisp beaten biscuit.
So I turned to the archives of The Courier-Journal and found yet another tradition that’s part of the annual Derby festival – the running of the recipes.
My research started some months ago, when my sainted aunt Barbara sent me her 1971 Courier-Journal and Times Cookbook by former food editor Lillian Marshall.
In the four-page spread titled “Oh, Do-Dah Day,” Marshall laid out a buffet featuring Kentucky spring leg of lamb, fruit in wine jelly, watercress dressing, toasted mushroom loaf and a gleaming silver platter topped with six picture-perfect mint juleps in appropriate sterling cups.
Do-Dah Day, indeed.
I dug into a few other archival issues, read yellowed pull-out recipe collections from the 1940s and perused old files of clipped recipes around the office. I got acquainted with the long string of Louisville’s newspaper food editors.
By the time I worked my way through decades of Derby’s Greatest Hits, I understood a great deal about the classic brunch foods and how a yearly recitation of the recipes is part of the Derby ritual.
Easy Beef Tenderloin
When Alice Colombo lamented in a 1988 headline “It must be Derby time again and you’re wondering why we’re printing them again,” it means that Courier-Journal reader requests have given certain dishes classic status. And though it’s possible to suggest updates to the Derby Day menu, we will always revisit these Kentucky classics.
This recipe recommends serving the beef with Henry Bain Sauce, a mix that includes chutney, A1, Worcestershire and chili Sauce. It is available in specialty stores, online or you can make your own.
The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal
2 to 2 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
Remove meat from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
Heat oven to 500 degrees. Combine thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Brush the meat with olive oil. Rub the seasoning mixture all over the meat. Place on a roasting pan, put the pan in the oven, shut the door and immediately reduce heat to 400 degrees.
Roast the beef 30 minutes, and read its internal temperature. At 125 degrees, its center will be red and slightly warm. At 135, the center will be pink.
Remove from oven, drape loosely with a piece of foil and let the meat stand at least 10 minutes before trying to carve it. (Its internal temperature will rise a few degrees on standing.) Slice and serve.
Serves at least 8.
Henry Bain Sauce
Though it’s now available at most specialty markets, this tangy condiment is easily put together with store-bought staples.
17-ounce jar chutney
1/2 of 9-ounce jar imported pickled walnuts
14-ounce bottle ketchup
11-ounce bottle steak sauce
10-ounce bottle Worcestershire sauce
12-ounce bottle chili sauce
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Put the chutney and walnuts, if using, in a blender, and chop fine or purée as you prefer (you’ll need to stop and stir). Combine with other ingredients, and season to taste with hot pepper sauce. Makes 4 pints.
Serve with hot or cold roast beef. Spread on beef sandwiches, serve with pot roast, etc. Also good served with cream cheese as a cracker spread.
This crunchy treat is a harbinger of springtime in Kentucky, and a great illustration of “eating with the seasons.”
1 pound fresh asparagus
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
Wash asparagus. Trim woody ends, and peel stalks, if desired, to remove stringy fibers. Leave tips intact.
Heat a little water in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, add asparagus and cover. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 to 10 minutes, or until asparagus is brightly colored. Remove, rinse in cold water, drain completely and set on a large serving plate.
Combine remaining ingredients, and pour over warm asparagus. Serve warm, room temperature or cold. Serves 4.
Note: Refrigerated, the dressing will last for months. The recipe also can be multiplied and used as an all-purpose salad dressing.
It’s worth seeking out Kentucky Proud Weisenberger grits for this buffet-friendly Southern classic. Find them at www.weisenberger.com.
2 cups grits
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed with the side of a knife (optional)
4 eggs, beaten
2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Butter a shallow 4-quart casserole. Combine grits and salt in a large pot with 6 cups water. Stir in milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring very often, reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring often, until very thick, about 15 or 20 minutes.
Combine butter and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter, and keep on the heat until garlic becomes aromatic. Remove garlic cloves, and stir butter into grits. Beat 1 cup of grits into eggs, then turn the eggs back into grits and stir to blend. Remove grits from heat, and stir in 1 1/2 cups cheese until blended. Pour into casserole, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until brown around the edges. Or refrigerate (to make a firmer grits mixture) until thoroughly chilled, then bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serves 10 or more.
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