Tips for Throwing a Theme Party

Bet on a winning Derby party

Well butter my behind and call me a biscuit! For Southern flavored fun, throw a Kentucky Derby theme party!

Even if the closest you’ve ever come to the “Run for the Roses” is a fast food sprint to your local KFC, it’s a great excuse to gather friends on the first Saturday in May, Churchill down a few cold ones and sample some of the classic cuisine of the Bluegrass State of mind.

No real Derby party would be complete without “burgoo”- the “thoroughbred of stews” – and as much a Derby tradition as mint juleps, ladies in colossal hats and a gallant post parade to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Some say this delightfully meaty, vegetably hodgepodge is more of a concept than a recipe. With its “lil’ bit o’ this, lil’ bit o’ that” approach to preparation, there are as many different ingredients for burgoo as there are people who eat it.

True burgoo is a Triple Crown of meat, vegetables and a thickening agent. Historically, the meats included whatever was in season when burgoo first hit its boiling point during the Civil War era. We’re talking fresh squirrel, mutton, venison, even opossum. Roadkill aside, today’s burgoo is more likely to be some combination of lamb, beef, pork, chicken or veal. Basically whatever’s on sale at your friendly neighborhood Piggly Wiggly.

For veggies, best bets are ‘taters, ‘maters, corn, cabbage, lima beans and okra. Just don’t use green peas. They’ll never stand up to the long cooking time (up to three days!) burgoo requires. Because like a fine Kentucky bourbon, its rich flavor & aroma improve with age.

The real measure of a good burgoo is that you can perfectly stand a spoon in it, thus that thickening agent. Typically, soup bones were thrown in to give it, well, backbone. But corn meal or whole wheat flour are perfectly acceptable substitutes.

Burgoo seasonings are another closely guarded secret, often handed down from generation to generation. Word is, they usually include Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and/or A-1 Steak Sauce.

Ideally burgoo is simmered in a large iron kettle over an open flame – a hickory-fired pit is the ultimate – for about 30 hours and stirred with long wooden paddles. But hey, if that sounds a bit too “Little House on the Prairie” for you, let’s get real. That’s what crock pots and wooden spoons are for.

The beauty about burgoo is that you really can’t screw it up. Since most people don’t know what it is in the first place, you can trot out any version you like – and nobody’s the wiser.

Wash it all down with a frosty mint julep – a swizzle of Kentucky bourbon, fresh mint and sugar splashed over crushed ice. After a few of these, you and your guests (make them wear funny hats!) can have fun trying to figure out how “burgoo” got its really weird name…

Some say the word “burgoo” is a mispronunciation of “barbeque.” Or, “bird stew,” since back in the days of General Lee, it was often made with game birds shot out in the field. Nobody knows for sure and frankly, my dear, nobody gives a (well, you know the rest). One thing’s for sure – burgoo is a Derby party runaway winner!


This entry was posted in Cooking.