When I gave my heart to a Kentucky boy, I also married the rich traditions of the Bluegrass State. For instance, not a Derby Day goes by that I don’t polish up a couple Julep cups, crush up some ice and make a minty simple syrup to mix up with bourbon just in time to cry real tears over the playin’ of My Old Kentucky Home before The Race. The Run for the Roses…the Kentucky Derby.
The first Saturday in May, Derby Day, is a time in the Saucy household to pull out the stops. All the traditions of Kentucky become very important; what better way to celebrate them than with Mint Juleps and another Kentucky tradition, the Kentucky Hot Brown?
Sort of a kissin’ cousin to Welsh Rarebit, the Kentucky Hot Brown is one of the most delightful open-faced sandwiches ever created. Back in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1920’s, The Brown Hotel was a hot spot for dinner dances; they’d really draw a crowd. After bustin’ out on the dance floor all evening, those dancin’ fools would get hungry and head to the Hotel restaurant for a late-night snack. The Hot Brown was developed by the chef at the time, Fred K. Schmidt; what he came up with soon became a favorite of the customers to the hotel and a tradition in the area.
The Kentucky Hot Brown is a simple, but hearty sandwich, and that’s probably what makes it so appealing. A pillow of white bread is topped with a slab-sized chunk of oven roasted turkey, which then has a flood of Mornay Sauce poured over it. This is then baked or broiled until the bread has crisped on the bottom and edges and the delightfully cheesy Mornay sauce on the top is sizzling and beginning to brown. It’s pulled out of the oven, topped with crispy bacon and tomato slices and served hot. The end.
Only, that won’t be the end, because I guarantee you, it will just be the beginning of your love affair with the Kentucky Hot Brown.
Note: A Mornay Sauce is a simple cheese sauce. The base is Béchamel Sauce, or cream sauce – one of the “Mother Sauces” of French cuisine, to which cheese is added to create Mornay. So, don’t be intimidated by the name…and don’t cheat and use some store-bought sauce…it’s simple to make.
- FOR THE MORNAY SAUCE:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream, warmed
- 2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
- Pinch of nutmeg
- salt and ground white pepper to taste
- FOR THE SANDWICH:
- 4 thick slices of a soft white bread (I used an Italian loaf, cut on the diagonal)
- 8 pieces of bacon, cooked crisp
- 2 tomatoes, sliced (I used Romas, cut length-wise)
- 4 thick slices (about ⅛ of an inch) of oven-roasted turkey
- Parsley, as a garnish
- FOR THE MORNAY SAUCE:
- In a medium-sized saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter.
- Slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
- Whisk heavy cream into the roux.
- Continue cooking over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes.
- Using a fine grater, grate a pinch of nutmeg into the sauce.
- Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in the cheeses until the Mornay sauce is smooth.
- FOR THE SANDWICH ASSEMBLY:
- Place your bread slices (untoasted) on a baking sheet.
- Top each slice of bread with a slice of turkey.
- Ladle Mornay sauce over the turkey slices, covering the turkey, but not the edges of the bread.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Just prior to placing the assembled sandwiches in, turn the oven setting to broil.*
- Place the baking sheet in the pre-heated 450 degree F oven, set on broil, until the edges of the bread are toasted (the bottoms of the bread will get crisp too)** and the Mornay sauce is bubbly and beginning to brown.
- Remove the sandwiches from the oven and top with tomato slices, bacon and parsley.
- Serve hot.