Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich
The Kentucky Hot Brown is a love letter to the commonwealth of Kentucky. Warm, inviting, and always in season just like bourbon, or Kentucky Hospitality. This isn’t an everyday meal but it’s the perfect meal for so many occasions. Cold winter’s night? Hot Brown. Hungover? Hot Brown. Need to prove Kentucky is the place to be for food? Hot Brown. You might not get the hype of the Kentucky Hot Brown now, but once you’ve made it for yourself then you’ll understand why it’s so revered.
The Legend of the Kentucky Hot Brown
The official story of the Hot Brown is that in the 1920s, the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky hosted lavish dinner dances. During these, patrons would work up quite the appetite and they’d normally get something like ham and eggs. But one night, the Head Chef Fred Schmidt, concocted a new dish with items he had on hand in the Hotel Kitchen: Turkey, Tomato, Mornay, Bacon, and Texas toast. He named it the Hot Brown after the hotel. The rest is history.
But the story goes deeper! When the Brown Hotel was closed in 1972, the dish became more widely available and started appearing on other Louisville Restaurants menus. During this time, the original recipe was thought to be lost and the whole thing became more of a general concept that other chefs and cooks alike could tinker with and really make their own. Eventually Hilton would reopen the Brown Hotel in 1984, where some reconstructing of the Hot Brown recipe began. But it wasn’t until 1990 when Chef Joe Castro was hired that the original recipe was discovered and brought back to its rightful home.
Now let me let you in on a little secret. In theory, the Brown Hotel shares their Hot Brown Recipe with everyone, you could find it on their website or maybe in some cookbooks. However, this isn’t the same recipe the hotel uses. Shocking, I know. According to Executive Chef James Adams of the Brown Hotel, there are three people that make the Mornay sauce. Him, and two others. This is a closely guarded secret that isn’t handed out to everyone in the kitchen, it’s passed down from Chef to Chef like a family heirloom. The recipe given to the public is designed for home use but there’s a little magic in the bulk batches at the Brown Hotel.
Mo’ Mornay, Mo’ Problems
If you’ve been cooking for a while you’re probably familiar, whether you realize it or not, with the four Mother Sauces: Béchamel sauce (White Sauce), Espagnole Sauce (Brown Sauce), Tomato Sauce, and Velouté sauce. Most sauces in cooking are a variation of one of these, there’s a reason there called the mother sauces. Mornay sauce, arguably one of the most defining features of a Kentucky Hot Brown, is simply a Béchamel sauce with cheese added. Now this all may sound intimidating but I’m going to make you feel a little better. Have you ever made mac and cheese? Then you’ve made Mornay sauce most likely.
The origin of Mornay is debated, a lot of people point the finger at Philippe de Mornay (1549 – 1623), a French Protestant Writer and member of the anti-monarchist movement. The main problem with this is that any cheese sauce developed during this time was based on velouté sauce because béchamel hadn’t been invented yet. We do know that Mornay didn’t appear in the Le Cuisinier Royal 10th edition in 1820, which would imply that it’s not older than the Paris restaurant Le Grand Véfour. However, we do know that Le Grand Véfour is where Mornay Sauce was introduced. That’s as far from a definitive answer as we’re going to get for now, but it is interesting to think about.
For the sandwich
- 3 slices bacon
- 2 roma tomatoes (1 sliced/1 diced)
- 2 thick slices of French Bread
- 1 thick slice roast turkey
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tomato
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
For the Mornay sauce
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup of all purpose flour
- 2 tsp red chili flakes
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tbsp Dan-O’s Original
- 10 oz Heavy whipping cream
- 6 slices thin aged cheddar cheese
- 9 slices swiss cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with heavy duty aluminum foil—one for the bacon and other to assemble the sandwiches, it should be large enough to set two slices of bread side by side.
Cook the bacon:
- Lay the bacon slices on one of the baking sheets.
- Cook the bacon, until crispy and to your liking
- Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess grease.
Toast the bread and assemble the sandwiches:
- Cut the crust off the French bread
- Toast bread in a toaster, toaster oven, or regular oven.
- Divide the turkey evenly between the slices of toast on the baking sheet. Top each stack of turkey with two slices of tomato. Season with salt and pepper.
Make the Mornay sauce:
- Melt the butter over medium-low heat
Stir in your flour to form a roux, cooking for 2-3 minutes while stirring frequently.
- Slowly pour in the whipping cream, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 3 minutes.
- Season with your red chili flakes, pepper, salt, and Dan-O’s Original
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the cheese until smooth and melted
- Spoon half of the sauce over each sandwich.
Broil the sandwiches:
- Set the oven rack about 5 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is browned in spots and bubbling, 3 to 5 minutes.