The Legendary Hot Brown

Just before Derby Day this year Hot Brown popped up on my screen. Wow, I remember eating Hot Browns in Louisville when I was a kid! Then off on a tangent…the Great Gatsby/F Scott Fitzgerald connection to Louisville in the recently released Buz Lerhmann film. Daisy Buchanan hailed from Louisville. Surely the Hot Brown figured into Jay’s and Daisy’s, and certainly F Scott Fitzgerald’s, late night carousing at the Brown Hotel or The Sealbach Hotel’s Rathskeller Bar.                                                                       

 I’ve  just got to have a Hot Brown!

Trying the original Hot Brown recipe from the Brown Hotel, posted on the hotel website, seemed a likely way to recreate this fond memory in my own kitchen. I cooked it up as directed. What I ended up with was something that resembled what I recalled, but lacked the unctuousness of what I decadently remember to be a molten marvel with a crusty broiled top strewn with crispy bacon.

Not to be denied, I decided to give it another try. My own version, by now an obsession…of the Hot Brown I remember!

The following recipe has been adjusted along with some substitutions that bring the original 1920’s recipe up to some 21st century considerations. It’s still all American food in the best sense.  A Kentucky blue grass delight!

Makes: 2 Hot Browns

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 cups of milk (or cream), warmed   
  •  Heavy cream is called for in the original recipe, but unnecessary for a Mornay sauce, but use cream if you like. 
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano + 2 tablespoons for garnish (prepared ahead)
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 14 oz sliced roasted chicken (or turkey) breast  
  • Roast turkey is called for in the original recipe, but imported and cost prohibitive in Thailand. By all means use turkey if available.
  • 2 slices Texas toast (crust trimmed) or better, a crusted toast of choice
  • 4 slices smoked ham (or crispy bacon)  
  • Crispy bacon is called for in the original recipe, but I have substituted sliced ham placed inside the Hot Brown. Bacon on the top if you prefer.
  • 1 tomato, halved
  • paprika (or smoked paprika)
  • parsley (or flat leaf), chopped

 In a two-quart heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter and as it begins to bubble whisk in flour until combined and forms a paste (roux). Continue to cook the roux, continuously whisking, for two minutes, being careful that it does not brown. Turn the heat up to medium and whisk in the warmed  milk (or cream) all at once into the roux and cook over medium heat until it begins to boil. Cook, continuously whisking, for 3 minutes. It will thicken as it cooks. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese until the (Mornay) sauce is smooth and the consistency of custard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in individual oven safe dishes and cover each with 7 ounces of sliced roast chicken (or turkey), topping that with the smoked ham, if using. (Omit the ham if using bacon on top). Take the two halves of tomato and set them alongside the base of each chicken (or turkey) on toast. Next, spoon the (Mornay) sauce over the top of each dish to completely cover the contents. Place dishes about 6 inches under a broiler and broil until the Mornay sauce begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler. Sprinkle a tablespoon of Pecorino-Romano over each dish, a dash of paprika, and chopped parsley. Cross two strips of crispy bacon (if using) on top of each dish. (Omit the bacon if using smoked ham). Serve immediately!

For a larger gathering, you can make Hot Browns casserole style. Arrange 6-8 servings in a baking pan. Prepare ahead, refrigerate, bring to room temperature, and broil.

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