Louisville (LOO-ih-vuhl), Kentucky – home of Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby, Mint Juleps, Louisville Slugger and KFC Center. Louisville – the food hub of the Ohio River originating such favorites as Benedictine (a spread consisting of cream cheese, cucumber and green food coloring), Burgoo (a thick, meat based stew that traditionally included grey squirrel) and Henry Bain Sauce (an accompaniment to meat and game consisting primarily of chutney and ketchup). Oh, let’s not forget. Louisville is the headwater of the outstanding Kentucky Bourbon Trail beginning with The Stitzel-Weller Distillery home of my favorite brands Rebel Yell and Bulleit Whiskey.
Now some say, and I agree, that next to great Bourbon and dry cured ham, Louisville’s greatest contribution to Kentucky cuisine is the famous Hot Brown. A veritable cholesterol bomb, the Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich consisting of sliced bread, roasted turkey, tomatoes and bacon smothered in a cheese sauce – Sauce Mornay if you will.
The Hot Brown originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville when in the 1920’s the hotel would host very popular dinner / dances that went to the wee hours. Chef Fred Schmidt created the Hot Brown as an alternative to ham and eggs that were traditionally served to guests after the dances.
A cliché I know, but the Louisville Hot Brown is more than the sum of its ingredients. What sets this sandwich apart from ordinary is the Mornay Sauce. The sauce is a variant of Béchamel one of the five classic mother sauces of French cooking.
Preparation of the sauce begins with a blond roux made of equal parts butter and flour cooked gently in a saucepan until all of the flour is coated in butter and a smooth mixture forms. Since Béchamel is a white sauce, the roux must not begin to brown.
Milk is then added and simmers with the roux until the sauce thickens to coat a spoon. Seasoning includes the essential Nutmeg. To this point the ratio of ingredients to make a medium thick sauce is 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 of butter for each cup of milk.
The next step is adding cheese to produce the Mornay Sauce. Various cheeses can be used. Traditionally, Mornay is made with Swiss style cheeses such a Gruyère or Emmental. The Brown Hotel makes a thinner, richer Mornay using heavy cream and Pecorino – an Italian sheep’s milk cheese.
This Hot Brown uses a combination of sharp, white cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano. About about 1/2 cup of grated cheese per cup of milk is whisked into the sauce until it melts.
As to the rest of the elements of this dish, fresh roast turkey breast sliced thickly is the best option but if your market carries in-house roasted turkey breast this is a good alternative and a timesaver. That is what is used here.
The Brown Hotel’s version of the dish uses a thick sliced “Texas Toast” white bread trimmed of crust. It is not toasted. Now, I don’t know about you’re nearest Whole Foods, but mine does not carry Texas Toast. The recipe uses slices of sourdough buttered and toasted. Pre-sliced, it was thinner than I would have liked.
It goes without saying. Buy the freshest, ripe tomatoes you can source and use a thick cut, dry cured bacon. Other than the 20 minutes, or so, it takes to prepare the Mornay, this dish is quick to prepare. The Louisville Hot Brown is first order comfort food.
Enjoy and Buon Appetito!
- 4 slices of thick-cut, dry rubbed bacon or more to taste
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons of flour for the roux
- 1 cup whole milk
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Whole nutmeg
- 1/4 cup grated sharp, white cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup of grated Parmesano Reggiano
- 4 slices of buttered and toasted sourdough bread
- Approximately 1 pound of thick sliced turkey (enough to stack about 1/2” of turkey on each piece of toasted sourdough)
- 1 or 2 (depending on size) thick slices of ripe tomato for each toast
- Italian flat leaf parsley for garnish
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
- Place bacon on a foil lined sheet pan and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove to a plate covered with paper towels until needed.
- While the bacon is cooking combine butter and flour in a medium (3 qt.) saucepan. Whisk over medium low heat until the butter and flour combine into a smooth paste or roux. Add milk and simmer until the mixture thickens so it will coat a spoon. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Using a fine grater or a micro plane, grate about 1/4 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the mixture. While the sauce simmers add cheese and whisk to combine. Set aside on low heat until ready to use.
- To assemble, place toast on an ovenproof backing dish (smaller ovenproof dishes sized to a single serving are ideal if you have these on hand). Top the toast with turkey, tomato and bacon (the bacon can be added later when garnishing if you like). Generously ladle Mornay over the sandwiches and place in the already pre-heated oven until the Mornay bubbles and begins to brown. Remove and garnish to serve.