This weekend is a special one for yours truly as the Irish get set to face off against my old man's alma mater for the first time in the history of college football. In hindsight I should've planned a trip with him for the occasion, but extracting him from his retirement pad in Texas to anywhere north of the Mason Dixon during the winter months (September through April by his account) is quite simply impossible. Still though, I can turn to food to be with family in spirit, and if need be, I can switch my entire house to airplane mode to dodge any goading should the outcome of the game prove to be as unsavory as the last couple of contests this month.
Thankfully, the timing of this dish could not have worked out any better. Having been raised by two native Kentuckians, I've eaten more than my fair share of hot browns, especially during the intensely turkey-heavy days that follow Thanksgiving. The recipe was invented by the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville for the crazy roaring twenties party people who needed some drunk food after cutting rugs all night (that's my interpretation anyway, you can read more about the history and recipe at the Brown Hotel's website). Like any other great regional dish, there are tons of variations, none more or less authentic than its peers. The version I prepare below mostly holds true to the Brown Hotel's, with an exception on the bread (I substituted normal bread for Texas toast). It should be noted that any variation of bread, turkey, bacon, and some form of cheese sauce is all you really need to capture the essence of this dish. When you spend a few days pouring gravy over everything under the sun, a tangy, zippy cheese sauce on top of your turkey might be a welcome revelation.
Ingredients (serves 2):
1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
14 oz. sliced roasted turkey breast, sliced thick
4 slices of sandwich bread
4 slices of bacon
1 tomato, sliced in half
The first thing we need to do is get our bacon going. The recipe calls for 4 strips. That's why I'm going with 8. I'll go ahead and tell you right now that I end up with 3 prior to plating (thanks Mrs. Paint). Keep an eye on the bacon and cook it fully as you go. You are going to top your hot browns with this just moments before eating.
Next, in a sauce pan melt your butter over medium heat. Get your broiler heating while you're at it.
Once that is melted, slowly whisk in your flower to form a roux. This is going to be the base of your Mornay sauce (as previously mentioned, you should be able to substitute any cheese sauce for this sauce. I will say I do prefer and recommend this Mornay sauce over, say, melted Velveeta).
Next, we pour in our heavy cream and cook, whisking often for a few minutes until it starts to simmer.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the Pecorino. If you don't have Pecorino or for whatever reason just don't like sheep's milk cheeses, feel free to sub in Parmesan, preferably not the stuff that comes in a green cylinder and is used to absorb nuclear waste after power plant meltdowns.
Cook's note: some people like to place their stirring utensils on a napkin or plate or fancy stovetop utensil holder when they aren't in use. I rest mine in bacon grease whenever available. This way when you pick it up to stir again, you are getting a little extra bacon essence in your sauce.
Okay, now the sauce should be nice and smooth, so grate some fresh nutmeg in and get ready to assemble the browns.
In some sort of dish or skillet that is fit for broiling, assemble the hot browns. To simulate Texas toast, I'm stacking two slices of sandwich bread for each.
Next I top the bread with a serving of leftover turkey, and next to that I have a tomato sliced in half.
I pour my Mornay sauce over top of everything and then sprinkle more Pecorino on top so it'll brown up nicely.
Put her under the broiler until brown and bubbly.
Once done, top with two strips of bacon, parsley, and a sprinkle of paprika and serve! Note the poor little hot brown on the left only got one strip of bacon. Manage your bacon wisely!
The result was exceedingly delicious. I also recommend a glass of bourbon for that extra Kentucky oomph. Now let's play a clean game and beat the Cardinals.