If you’ve yet to hear of it, a hot brown (or Kentucky hot brown or even Louisville hot brown) is an open-faced sandwich that has been served for just shy of a century. A hot brown itself seems like something you would need to look up on Urban Dictionary. You probably shouldn’t do that; instead, you can read about Kentucky’s famous hot brown below.
A Kentucky hot brown is an open-faced sandwich invented in 1926 in Louisville, Kentucky at the Brown Hotel. A chef named Fred K. Schmidt, who worked at the hotel, is credited with the invention. The open-faced sandwich seems like it could have been inspired by Welsh rarebit, which is a simpler dish of cheese sauce poured over toast and then broiled.
My friend in sandwiches, Jim, over at the Sandwich Tribunal, wrote about the history of hot browns and made a couple of them back in 2016. His experience and photos are a good read if you’re interested in more.
The components of a hot brown are roasted and sliced turkey breast, crispy bacon, slices of tomato, and a cheesy Mornay sauce all stacked up and browned under a broiler on top of slices of toast.
Turkey, bacon, and melty cheese? There’s nothing wrong with that.
I like the idea of the hot brown, but I feel like it would be more interesting for me to write about it if I adjusted it to be a fully enclosed sandwich instead of open-faced.
The official Kentucky hot brown recipe
I took a shot and made the official recipe from the Brown Hotel and it turned out great. The biggest component of the recipe here is making the Mornay sauce. Roasting a turkey breast and baking or otherwise cooking some bacon is easy to accomplish. The Mornay sauce takes less than 20 minutes and then you’re ready for open-facing a “sandwich.”
The Brown Hotel recipe calls for Texas Toast, which is a fairly traditional soft, thick-cut white bread. I had a few slices of homemade pain de mie that I had baked with some assorted grains in it, and I used that instead. But for everything else, I used just as the recipe suggested.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this version of my homemade Kentucky hot brown. There’s not much to dislike unless you’re a tomato hater or lactose intolerant. This process has taught me that I want to plan a trip to Louisville to order the authentic version.
Is this a sandwich?
No, I don’t think that open-faced sandwiches are actual sandwiches because they’re missing adjoining or top adorning bread. A hot brown is good, but I do not consider it to be a sandwich.
Can we make this a sandwich?
Absolutely. It’s basically just missing a bread hat. Let’s do it.
The buttery brioche buns
As per usual, I like to start with the bread selection. This is my brioche bun recipe, and it turns out flavorful, soft, and pretty buns. The hot brown recipe from the Brown Hotel uses Texas toast. We could use that, but I decided instead to put all these ingredients into a buttery and rich brioche bun.
Here’s my brioche bun recipe. It’s not a beginner recipe and it does pretty much require a mixer because the dough is so enriched with butter, but it’s not much more difficult than other bun recipes. Give it a shot and share a photo with me on Twitter or Instagram!
The roasted turkey
I’ve roasted a few turkey breasts for this sandwich blog, and I think they make for good sandwiching. Some people find turkey to be too dry, but my experience is that if you have proper temperature control during the baking process you can come out on the other side with good sandwiching.
If you are afraid of turkey dryness, you really don’t have to worry much about it in this case with sliced tomato and the cheesy Mornay sauce involved in the sandwich toppings.
The oven-baked bacon
I’ve seen a lot of oven-baked bacon recipes out there and often the only difference will be what the bacon is cooked on. Some say parchment, some say a baking rack, and others say aluminum foil. I have always used foil, but I wanted to try the other options to see if either baking surface was better than the others.
I didn’t learn too terribly much here, but I did learn that aluminum foil and parchment-baked bacon brown a whole lot faster than cooking on a rack since both of those “fry” in their own fat. If you are a person who likes to save bacon grease, you should cook on aluminum foil and use the foil to create a basin for the bacon and grease.
Here’s my baked bacon recipe. It’s easy, it requires less cleanup than pan-fried bacon and you can cook it while you’re taking a shower (I’ve done this – more than once). Use aluminum foil if you want the fastest finish on your bacon and the least amount of cleanup. Save the residual bacon fat if you want some extra love for your next batch of seared veggies.
The Mornay cheese sauce
A Mornay sauce is basically just a creamy cheese sauce. Technically a Mornay sauce is a version of a bechamel sauce which is one of those mother sauces that the chefs on Food Network are always talking about. Almost all the ingredients are dairy-based, and it’s flavored mostly with cheese, but the Brown Hotel’s recipe has just a touch of fresh nutmeg.
This recipe for Mornay makes quite a bit of sauce. You can reheat it and it is possible to get it back to similar sauce consistency with a couple of tweaks. I found that just adding a couple of tablespoons of milk will bring it right back.
Reheating: for every three tablespoons of cold Mornay sauce, I added 1 teaspoon of milk. You can mix these two together while cold and then microwave them or add them to a pot and bring them to a reheated temperature there as well.
The Kentucky hot brown-wich recipe
Here we go with this blog’s first foray into Kentucky cuisine. Scroll past the recipe for extra photos of this Kentucky hot brown-wich.
A riff on the Kentucky hot brown open-faced sandwich. Except we close the face on this version and tuck it into a soft brioche bun.
- 2.5 to 3 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1⁄2 cup milk
- 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
- 1⁄2 cup Pecorino Romano, grated (plus more for garnish)
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- ground black pepper
- kosher salt
- 4 brioche buns
- 8 tomato slices
- 8 to 10 turkey slices (from above)
- Mornay sauce (from above)
- 8 bacon slices
- paprika (for garnish)
- parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)
Roasted turkey: Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).
Add olive oil to the outside of your turkey breast and rub it in with one hand. With your other hand (or wash hands first) sprinkle on your kosher salt and ground black pepper. Try to get even coverage all over the breast.
Once coated with salt and pepper and the oven has finished pre-heating, place the turkey breast on a roasting pan or a rack in a sheet pan and add it to the oven. Roast the turkey breast for around 1.5 to 2 hours or until the turkey is between 155 and 160 F. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest and cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
Mornay sauce: In a medium pot over medium heat, add butter and flour. Stir and cook the butter and flour paste for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add milk and heavy cream and whisk it into the butter and flour paste. Cook and whisk until the sauce is smooth and simmering.
After a minute or two of simmering, remove the pot from the heat and add the grated Pecorino Romano. Whisk the cheese into the sauce until the sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg and black pepper to the sauce and taste. If it seems like it could use some salt, add it. The cheese is fairly salty, so you might not want to add any. That's up to you.
Sandwich assembly: slice your buns and get them ready for sandwiching. Place each bun open on one sheet pan or baking pan.
Stack turkey and tomato slices on each bottom bun and cover with 2 or 3 spoonfuls of Mornay sauce.
Place the pan with the buns in the oven with the broiler on high and broil for 3 minutes. Pay close attention to the top bun because it will brown quickly.
Once the bun has started toasting and everything is all melty remove the pan from the oven. Top the Mornay sauce side of the bun with bacon and garnish with more Pecorino, paprika, and diced parsley. Top everything with the top bun and serve.
Make your own hot brown at home
Seriously, be careful what you google. But make one of these hot brown sandwiches.
Check back next week when I get into a beef with garlic.