What do you do with hungry dancers in the wee hours of the morning?
Well, if you’re Chef Fred Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville back in the Roaring 1920s, you improvise and come up with a dish that is sure to please the more than 1200 guests attending the newly opened hotel’s dinner dances each evening. Determining they wanted something more than just ham and eggs, Schmidt created an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon and a rich Mornay sauce.
Can you say Hot Brown?
The Hot Brown is wonderful and the Brown itself is divine. An architectural gem, the Georgian-Revival style hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s showstopping elegance is all gold, grandeur, gilt, glitter, and glamour.
From when it opened in 1923, it’s allure attracted the crème-de-la-crème of society. According to the hotel’s website, the French American operatic soprano and actress Lily Pons, who was staying there while playing at the Brown Theatre, let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite. Al Jolson, also playing at the Theatre, got in a fight in the hotel’s English Grill, but said everything was all right—his makeup would cover the shiner. Queen Marie of Romania, when she was on a diplomatic tour of the U.S. with her children, visited in 1926 and was entertained in the Crystal Ballroom in royal style complete with red carpet and a gold throne on a dais. Victor Mature had a brief career as an elevator operator at the hotel before moving on to find fortune and fame in Hollywood.
Other well-known visitors have included the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama.
As for the Hot Brown, it’s become more than just a Louisville tradition and has been featured in Southern Living, The Los Angeles Times, NBC’s Today Show, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, and The Wall Street Journal, and is a regular entry in many of the world’s finest cookbooks.
Here is the Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown Recipe.
It makes two Hot Browns.
- 2 oz. Whole Butter
- 2 oz. All Purpose Flour
- 8 oz. Heavy Cream
- 8 oz. Whole Milk
- ½ Cup of Pecorino Romano Cheese
Plus 1 Tablespoon for Garnish
- Pinch of Ground Nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper
- 14 oz. Sliced Roasted Turkey Breast, Slice Thick
- 4 Slices of Texas Toast (Crust Trimmed)
- 4 Slices of Crispy Bacon
- 2 Roma Tomatoes, Sliced in Half
- Parmesan Cheese
In a two‑quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium‑low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream and whole milk into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2‑3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place two slices of toast with the crusts cut off in an oven safe dish – one slice is cut in half corner to corner to make two triangles and the other slice is left in a square shape – then cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points and set them alongside the base of the turkey and toast.
Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. 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 paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.
Hot Brown Casserole
- 1 cup butter
- 3⁄4 cup flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 6 cups milk
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 16 slices white bread
- 16 slices cooked turkey (roast)
- 1 lb. bacon (to make 1 cup bacon bits)
- 1 cup tomatoes, seeded & diced
- 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
The Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown Casserole
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add flour stirring to make a roux; cook 2 to 3 minutes.
Thoroughly beat eggs; beat into milk. While stirring, very slowly add milk mixture to butter mixture.
Stir in parmesan cheese. Cook until mixture thickens, but do not boil. This will take 30 to 45 minutes.
Mixture should heavily coat the back side of a large spoon.
Remove from heat. Fold in whipping cream and add salt and pepper to taste.
Trim crust from bread edges. Toast 10 slices in a regular toaster or place in pan under broiler till golden. Repeat on the other side. Reserve remaining bread slices.
Line the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch casserole with 6 slices of toast. Place the remaining 4 slices of toast in an 8x8x2-inch pan. (If you can place all in one pan then do so.). Top with slices of turkey. Cover with sauce, dividing the sauce between the two casseroles. Spread all of the sauce over the turkey.
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and paprika.
Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or till golden brown.
While casserole is baking, fry bacon till crisp; drain on paper towels. When cooled, break into bits.
Toast remaining slices of bread. Cut on a diagonal. When casserole is done, place toasted bread around outer edge, point side up.
Garnish top of casserole with bacon bits and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serve while hot.