Farmers Market on a Stick. With Bourbon. And Fire.

Farmers Market on a Stick. With Bourbon. And Fire.

by Tom Yates

Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.

The Tuesday/Thursday Farmers’ Market on the corner of Maxwell and Broadway can be an overlooked little jewel. With fewer crowds than the downtown Saturday Market, it’s a great way to start an early morning work day. Right now, during peak season, it’s still peaceful enough to chat with vendors and neighbors while shopping locally. Granted there aren’t loads of food vendors, musicians, or bustling patio bars serving summery cocktails. Even without those well founded perks, it’s convenient, accessible, and fabulous.

While I try to shop leisurely and responsibly at our farmer’s markets, most of the time it doesn’t happen. I’m constantly blown away by fascinating and unfamiliar stuff. Introduce me to something special and all bets are off. Reason flies out the window. Grab, go, and think about it later. It happens a lot.

It happened again this week. Grab and go. After storming the market before work, my morning rampage left me with bags full of Haney’s Orchard white-fleshed doughnut peaches, Madison County zucchini, gnarly fennel bulbs from Stone Henge Farm, multicolored cherry tomatoes, purple candy onions, and plump organic free range chicken breasts from Elmwood Stock Farm.

So, how do you make an unlikely mishmash of market fruits and vegetables play nice together? Stick them.

Makers Mark Bourbon Peach Barbecue Sauce.
I’m certainly not a pit master or a barbecue guru, but I do prefer scratch-made sauces over most commercial varieties. Fire. Coals. Barbecue. After teaching the Culinary Arts Bourbon Cooking School at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for a couple of years, I knew I could play with bourbon and fire.

I sauteed 1 minced purple candy onion with 2 minced garlic cloves in a small sauce pan over a medium flame. As the onions started to curl and caramelize, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup Makers Mark Bourbon before carefully tipping the pan to ignite the bourbon. When the bourbon reduced by half, I added 1 1/2 cups ketchup, 2 diced peaches, 1 tablespoon chardonnay oak smoked salt, cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. I reduced the sauce to a simmer and let it plop and spit for 20 minutes before removing it from the heat to cool.

Stick It.
After cutting the tough outer portions of the fennel bulb from the root end, I trimmed away the fronds (reserved), quartered the bulb, removed the core, and dropped the quarters into salted simmering water with 4 halved purple candy onions. While they softened for the grill, I sliced the chicken breasts into 1 1/2″ pieces and sliced the remaining peaches into small wedges.

With everything on deck, I poked and prodded everything onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers in alternating layers: chicken, zucchini, fennel quarters, halved onions, peaches, and tomatoes.

When the raging fire mellowed, I seasoned the skewers and slapped them onto the sizzling hot grill. After allowing them to sear for a few minutes on each side, I basted the skewers with the bourbon barbecue sauce and let them cook until the chicken juices ran clear, about 15 minutes. When the chicken developed a slight char, I pulled the skewers from the grill and nestled them over the reserved feathery fennel fronds. Anchored by individual baby potato gratins, I finished with skewered raw zucchini ribbons and a scattering of  split cherry tomatoes.

With smoky vanilla undertones, the Makers Mark peach-infused barbecue sauce sealed the chicken with caramelized sweet zing.  While the collapsed tomatoes and melted peaches packed a fruity punch, the fennel quarters balanced their charred sweetness with a savory anise-flavored crunch. Unadorned, naked, and raw, the fresh zucchini rolls and tomatoes provided clean contrasting textures to the sticky meat, fruits, and vegetables. No forks needed.

Farmers’ market on a stick.

With bourbon.

Enough said.

This article also appears on page 13 of the September 12, 2013 print edition of Ace. Click to subscribe to the Ace e-dition (delivered to your inbox every Thursday), and read more of Chef Tom’s Ace food columns.