You Say "Hot Brown" ...I Say "Hot Damn!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Need a snack to go with that Mint Julep this weekend for the Kentucky Derby? Try making the classic Derby sandwich called a Hot Brown.
It's an open-faced sandwich comprised of freshly roasted sliced turkey breast, good bread, a classic cheese sauce called Mornay (a bechamel sauce with equal parts of Gruyere and cheddar cheeses (usually white cheddar) and then topped with shredded Parmesan cheese), and some bacon and tomato for garnish. It's an amazing sandwich packed with all sorts of salty, strong flavors that boldly trump most sandwiches. With the cheese sauce, you can think of it as a Croque Monsieur on steroids.
The Hot Brown was conceived by chef Fred K. Schmidt in 1926 at the famous Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Originally it was made as a more substantive late-night snack for guests, but the sandwich has evolved not only to be Kentucky's answer to New Orleans muffaletta, but
the official sandwich of the Derby.
Variations include a generic cheese sauce made from processed cheese but that's not a real Hot Brown. You have to spend the time and love in making that Mornay and the payoff will be amazing, I promise you. And don't skimp on the turkey either. Using sandwich deli meat is not going to cut it for this sandwich (no pun intended); you need that thick, juicy slice of roasted turkey to pull this monster off.
If you're planning to make an event of watching The Derby this weekend then make this sandwich. Or if you want to bump up your next brunch with something classic and seeped in history and flavors, then this is your go-to as well.
Here's a recipe from from Chef Nick Sundberg that hits the classic notes of the sandwich:
Hot Brown Sandwich
3 ounces turkey breast, roasted, sliced
1 slice toasted white bread
2 slices tomato
2 slices bacon, cooked and drained
for the sauce:
2 ounces butter
3 ounces flour
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated
salt and white pepper to taste
Heat butter and add flour. Whisk and slowly cook for 5 minutes. Whisk in cream and milk and heat. Whisk in cheese until melted. Season. Simmer for 30 minutes. Sauce should be very thick.
Quarter toast and place in an oven safe dish. Top with turkey and tomatoes. Cover well with sauce. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Garnish with bacon.
My Notes:
Want to make this for a crowd? Instead of making every sandwich individually, portion out everything according to number of guests (double, triple the recipe etc. as needed). Yes, you will end up with an obscene amount of sauce but the whole thing needs to be literally drowning in that Mornay, so go for it. Place all the sandwich components in a large casserole dish and bake off at the same time. Then cut into it as you would a casserole.
If you want to play around with the cheeses then do a half gruyere-half white cheddar combination. Or all cheddar. Or all gruyere or swiss. Try not to venture off into other cheeses though because the sauce really needs to have that "punch" a good sharp cheese has, and the meltability a cheddar or gruyere can offer. So stay away from the aged provelones that won't melt as well. And go ahead and top it all with some grated Parmesan too if you like!
Not into the meat? A vegetarian style has become popular in recent years. Substitute the turkey with grilled vegetables and in stead of bacon top with thinly sliced avocado. The cheese sauce will go very well with the vegetables as well.
This recipe calls for white pepper. It's the classic pepper of choice for white sauces so as it can blend in better to the eye, and offers a milder pepper taste than the traditional black pepper. Don't have it? Just use black pepper.

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