The Gastronaut

Jolyon Helterman's monthly dispatch from the place mat.

Mint Julep

Illustration by the Ellaphant in the Room

Derby Little Secrets

Confession: It’s entirely possible that I’ve never actually watched the Kentucky Derby—when it comes to the hallowed horse race, I’m in it purely for the mint juleps, those sweetened, minty-fresh bourbon snow cones that are the unofficial mascot of the whole affair. Below, my own personal trifecta for doing them right.

1. The Booze

Beam and Maker’s are too workaday, but sugaring up Pappy-caliber thoroughbreds is idiotic. My sweet spot? Elijah Craig 12 Year. The small-batch Louisville bourbon is complex, redolent of clover honey, and, at $35 a bottle at Brix, a steal.

2. The Ice

I prefer crushed over shaved. To get it just right, I beat the hell out of regular cubes stuffed inside a handstitched ice-crushing bag ($23 at the Boston Shaker) with a meat mallet, the back of a skillet…or anything heavy and handy.

3. The Herbs

You can muddle the mint leaves in a shaker, or steep them in hot simple syrup as it cools. I’m a syrup guy (equal parts water and sugar, plenty of mint), and sometimes I add smashed lemon-grass to the mix to keep it interesting.

Hoarder Control

In a crowded bar, there’s no such thing as saving grace.

Walk into any watering hole between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., and chances are you’ll find a veritable tent city of barstools strategically draped with jackets and briefcases, all on hold for friends who have yet to show up. On the surface, sure, saving a spot for a pal when you’re the first to arrive is just the thoughtful thing to do—right? I say wrong. Inconveniencing fellow tipplers now to ensure your unassembled crew enjoys a fast pass later is the pub-crawling equivalent of Southie street parkers safeguarding “their” spaces with lawn chairs, or animals marking their territory.

Doing the right thing should be its own reward, of course, though on occasion it also yields karmic benefits. Case in point: On a recent Thursday, I was waiting for a friend at Gaslight’s crowded bar, on a stool flanked by the last two empties. “Be there in five,” he texted. Moments later, sure enough, a couple asked if the seats were free. Ugh. “You know, I’ve got a buddy coming, but you never know when he’ll show up,” I lied, mustering a smile. “Besides, I take a hard-line stance against seat hoarding—please be my guest!” And wouldn’t you know it: By the time the guy actually arrived some 30 minutes later, the duo had already moved on to the dining room—but not before quietly springing for our first round of drinks.

Seoul Searching

Adventures in gastronomical geekery with my friend and culinary co-conspirator, Nab.

Thursday, 7:14 p.m., Westborough Korean Restaurant.

The waitress arrives with our hot cauldron of young yang jungol, but truthfully, Nab and I could sense the black-goat stew coming when it was still far across the narrow, no-frills dining room. Its tell: the heady, complex amalgam of pungent fragrances—fiery chilies; fermented bean paste; minty, licorice-tinged perilla seeds; and dark, unctuous meat. Not to mention the ferocious gurgling sounds of the hot broth (or is that my stomach? I’m famished). Our server sets the crock on a portable burner, and the turbulence barely subsides. I ladle a portion into my bowl and take a slurp. Not bad, but I was expecting something richer and thicker, I confess. “Just wait,” counsels Nab, so I snack on the array of banchan garnishes as he chronicles the myriad panaceaic powers ascribed tothis dish, from curing osteo-porosis and bad skin to taming erectile dysfunction. As I polish off the lion’s share of kimchi, I notice the stew is now 30 per-cent gone. Wait, how did it…oh, I get it. “Try it now,” Nab says, and I can’t believe how much the ensuing time on the burner has reduced and enriched the flavor. It’s glorious—and clearly, at the very least, a proven cure for the common hunger pang.

Westborough Korean Restaurant, 7E. Main St., Westborough, 508-366-8898.