It isn’t often that regional dishes cause a stir beyond their borders. But when they do, they’re usually here to stay. The Kentucky hot brown is a shining example of that.
“At that time, we had dinner dances, and when the band would go on break, our guests would routinely retire to the restaurant for a bite to eat,” said Mark Salmon, long-time Brown Hotel employee and keeper of hot brown history. Salmon explained that Schmidt’s late-night-snack invention evolved out of creative ingenuity, using “items he had on hand.”
An Instant ClassicPatrons of the hotel knew almost immediately that the dish was something special. Pretty soon, the Kentucky hot brown became a sensation, with folks traveling from miles around to enjoy its cheesy, gooey deliciousness.
“It can be served anywhere, but people have to come here to get the original,” said Salmon, adding that it’s part of the tourism experience and that visitors sometimes make a special quick stop just to order it. “We valet park for them and when they are done, they move on to their next destination.”
The Brown Hotel knows which side its Texas toast is Mornay-ed; all employees are required to learn about the hot brown, its history, and how to make it. What may also be surprising is that the hotel isn’t shy about sharing the recipe.
“We provide postcards upon request with the recipe on them if the customer orders the dish,” Salmon said. Still, there must be something about having the dish at the place where it originated, or else the hotel wouldn’t turn out 1,000 hot browns in a typical week—unless the Kentucky Derby is in town, in which case that number triples.
These days, the Kentucky hot brown can be found all around town. GoToLouisville.com even features a Hot Brown Hop, taking hungry tourists to various places to get their hot brown fix.
Salmon said there’s little not to like, and perhaps that’s the reason why the hot brown has held its appeal all these years.
The Original Kentucky Hot BrownMakes 2 hot browns
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces heavy cream
- 8 ounces whole milk
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
- 4 slices Texas toast
- 14 ounces thick-sliced roasted turkey breast
- 4 slices crispy bacon
- 2 Roma tomatoes, halved
- Parmesan cheese, paprika, and fresh parsley to serve
Trim the crusts of the Texas toast. Cut 2 of the slices in half diagonally (corner-to-corner), to make 4 triangles; leave the other 2 slices whole.
For each hot brown, place 1 whole slice in an oven-safe dish. Cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Set 2 tomato halves and 2 toast triangles in the dish around the base of the turkey-topped toast. Pour half of the Mornay sauce over each stack, to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional pecorino Romano.
Place the entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with parmesan, paprika, and parsley, and serve immediately.