It’s that time of year! Warm weather is on the way, and one of the world’s most well-known horse races is around the corner. The Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve is a chance to bring out a stylish outfit, say cheers with a traditional cocktail, and feast on some mouthwatering Southern favorites. To help you host your very own Derby Party at home, we tapped chef, cookbook author, Louisville native, and southern food expert Damaris Phillips to share her favorite tips.
Beyond delicious ideas for drinks, starters, and the main event, she says that you absolutely can’t start a Derby party without hats! Along with other race day decor like embossed coasters, or fun printed horses to hang as decoration, swing by a vintage or thrift store and pick up a variety of hats for your guests to choose from when they arrive—that’s the way to kick off a party! Now, let’s get down to planning out a spread of delicious food and drinks.
Say Cheers with a Twist on Tradition
Possibly the most iconic drink of all, the mint julep is a must at a Derby party, but there’s no shame in giving it a twist. Damaris loves making a Strawberry Basil version using Woodford Reserve Bourbon and serving it up punch-style! This way, your guests can serve themselves while you tend to hosting and prepping other bites and sips. If you fancy something a little lighter, try a twist on a Champagne cocktail by adding a splash of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and bitters and then garnishing with an orange or cherry.
You Can Never Have Enough Dips to Start a Party
To start your Derby Day party in the right direction, you have to have Pimento Cheese. Damaris suggests giving your guests a few choices—a classic, a spicy version with pickled jalapeños, and one with smoky cheddar mixed through. Serve these classic Southern dips with a crostini and fresh, colorful crudites. To keep the dip theme going, take a classic Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich and spin those ingredients into a creamy, rich bowl of deliciousness that’s the perfect vessel for toast points. Finally, amp up your usual deviled egg game with a spin on toppings like chopped mixed olives, pimento cheese, or topped with slivers of crispy country ham.
The Two Toppings You Have to Try on Your Buttermilk Biscuits
Biscuit sliders are a surefire hit for a party but offering two styles of toppings takes things up a notch. What are the perfect additions to BA’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits? A slider topped with goetta sausage (a Kentucky-style pork or beef breakfast sausage mixed with oats and spices), Woodford Reserve Bourbon-caramelized onions and a sprinkle of goats cheese. And then, a spin on Southern chicken salad using fried chicken. Yes, you heard correctly. This spin on tradition uses fried chicken (pulled from the bone) tossed in a vinaigrette of mayonnaise, wholegrain mustard, and thinly sliced celery. This results in the breaded bites of chicken soaking up all that tang and flavor from the dressing and giving your sliders a little extra flair.
Yes, Y’all Had Us at “Grits Bar”
Everyone knows and loves the iconic southern dish shrimp and grits, but who’s thought of making a “Grits Bar” the main event for a party? When it’s time to eat, transfer your warm Woodford Reserve Bourbon grits to a large platter and have guests finish their own bowls with a variety of additions. Plate up smalls bowls of crispy country ham, sauteed shrimp, grated cheese, sour cream, crumbled bacon or goetta, plus small bowls of chopped scallions, red onions, and fresh herbs for garnish. Now that’s a main course they won’t soon forget.
A Rose by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet
Of course, we can’t forget the sweet tooth additions to the menu. Although there are plenty of uber traditional options to make like the famous Blackberry Jam Cake (which would be great in cupcake form with Bourbon-Caramel frosting), Modjeska mallow pops or of course Bourbon-chocolate truffles, surprising your guests can be half the fun. Why not bring the flavor of the official flower of the Derby, roses, into the mix with a delectable cheesecake flavored with the softly fragrant touch of rosewater and sprinkled with crushed pistachios and rose petals for a winning finish.
For more tips, tricks, and ideas, visit Damaris on Instagram at @ChefDPhillips.
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