As they say, genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. True to form, the birth of the Hot Brown involved a little of both.
In 1926, Chef Fred Schmidt of the Brown Hotel in Louisville had a hangover problem on his hands. Not his hangover, mind you, but after an all-night dinner dance at the hotel, his guests were looking for some after-party drunk munchies and he had to deliver. Now, breakfast food is always a post-party crowd-pleaser, but Chef Schmidt wanted to take it further. The Hot Brown — an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and Mornay sauce — hit all the sweet (and salty) spots that Chef Schmidt's guests were craving.
Since that now-legendary night, the Hot Brown has been transformed into casseroles, given a different Southern twist with a biscuit base, draped with pimentos, and customized to fit any craving. In Georgia, Chick-Fil-A serves a breaded chicken version at its iconic Dwarf House restaurant. Pittsburghers know the sandwich as a Turkey Devonshire, made with a cheddar sauce.
The following recipe is a straightforward adaptation of the classic Hot Brown. Although the Brown Hotel's version includes tomato wedges tucked alongside the sandwich, placing slices under the Mornay sauce keeps things more compact and easier to eat.
Hot Brown Sandwich
4 slices Texas toast
3/4 to 1 pound (12 to 16 ounces) roast turkey, thickly sliced
2 medium ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whipping cream or half and half
1 ounce freshly and finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
Paprika for garnish (optional)
Freshly minced parsley for garnish (optional)
Preheat the broiler.
Lightly toast the bread under the broiler or in a toaster oven until golden, then place the slices of toast in individual broiler-safe dishes or in a single layer in a 9x13-inch casserole dish.
Top each piece of toast with 3 to 4 ounces roast turkey and 1 to 2 tomato slices. Set aside and make the Mornay sauce.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk until the flour has darkened to a deep blonde color, about 2 minutes. Whisk the cream into the pan. Still whisking, bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken.
Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the Pecorino Romano cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle the Mornay sauce over the sandwiches. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and turning golden brown at the edges, about 5 minutes.
Top each sandwich with 2 crossed slices of bacon and sprinkle with paprika and parsley, if desired. Serve immediately.
- Because grated cheese can vary widely in volume, its measurement here is provided by weight. Grate yours fresh and stop when you have about 1 ounce.