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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beat It

It's Derby week here in the Bluegrass.
Let the parties begin.

During the week leading up to the big race, it's all about bourbon and classic Kentucky fare. Steeped in tradition, platters of beaten biscuits filled with shaved country ham will appear at Derby parties alongside roasted beef tenderloins with Henry Bain's Sauce, bowls of burgoo, benedictine tea sandwiches, miniature Hot Browns, and versions of chocolate walnut pies. Kentucky Proud.

I've always had a thing for beaten biscuits this time of year. With their crisp chewy texture, beaten biscuits stuffed with country ham are perfect bite-sized party snacks. While they appear dainty and delicate, they're quite the opposite.  Unlike their familiar flaky soft-dough counterparts, beaten biscuits are more like crackers or hardtack. Classically southern, they originated in Virginia and made their way across the mountains to Kentucky before traveling north to Maryland. In New England, they're called sea biscuits because they were staples on whaling ships.

Originally, beaten biscuits were made without leavening agents. The dough was beaten vigorously  (for 45 minutes to an hour, about 500 whacks) to incorporate air and develop  glutens in the dough  for a subtle rise. Beaten, not stirred. Beaten, not kneaded.  Back in the day, axes, hoes, clubs, iron bars, and hammers were used to beat the crap out of the dough.   Nowadays, rolling pins or mallets eliminate the need for farm equipment.

Beaten Biscuits with Shaved Country Ham and Course-Grain Maple Bourbon Mustard.

I've been on a mustard-making kick lately. When I discovered how simple it was to prepare, I went a little crazy. With homemade mustard, the textures and flavor profiles are endless. Because it was Derby week, I hit the bourbon trail.

I tumbled 3/4 cups black mustard seeds and 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds into a medium sized bowl. After dousing them with 3/4 cups Maker's Mark Bourbon and 1/2 cup water, I let the seeds steep for 2 hours. When the seeds softened, I added 1 tablespoon turmeric, 2 teaspoons paprika, 6 tablespoons dry yellow mustard, 1/3 cup pure maple syrup, 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt,  and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. I poured the mix into a heavy cast iron skillet, brought it to a boil, reduced it a simmer, and let it rip for 5 minutes. When the thickened mustard cooled down, I pureed  it with an immersion blender (leaving enough whole grains for texture) and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.  Booya. Mustard.

Biscuit Dough.
While beaten biscuits are a cinch to make, they're not for the faint of heart because the process is incredibly labor intensive. It's a messy business. Very messy. Trust me.

I sifted 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt into the bowl of a food processor. After pulsing 1/4 cup chilled vegetable shortening into the flour, I added 1/2 cup cream and 1/3 cup water. I pulsed the mix until it formed a wet loose dough ball and dumped onto a well floured board. Using a floured rolling pin, I beat the hell out of the biscuit dough, folding it in after every 5 to 10 whacks. Although I lost count of the total whacks at around 280, the dough was smooth and blistered after 45 minutes. Beaten biscuit dough. Yep. A cinch.  Everything within 5 feet of my work surface was covered in flour dust. Everything, even our cat. It was hysterical.

I pulled the dough into a small ball, cleaned the kitchen, mopped the floor, dusted the ceiling fan, and took a long hot shower before chugging  several glasses of  a buttery chardonnay.

Refreshed, I revisited and embraced the beaten biscuit dough.

After rolling out the dough into a 1/3 inch sheet, I cut it into rounds with a small biscuit cutter, docked the rounds with a fork, and baked them in a 400 degree oven until the bottoms were slightly browned, about 20 minutes.

While they were still somewhat warm, I sliced the biscuits in half and filled them with shavings of Browning's Country Ham. Paired  with  maple bourbon mustard and sprigs of Hoot Owl Holler Farm watercress, the humble biscuits were dressed for a party.

So, beat them or buy them?
Packages of fully cooked beaten biscuits are available at Critchfield Meats or any Taste Of Kentucky retail location.

I'm beating up another batch for Derby Day
after I sharpen my axe.

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