A Day For Mom
Mother’s Day this year arrived with an unusual request from my mom. She has never had a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, and since I lived there for a number of years, she asked me to make one!! Well, one does not turn down a command performance for the Queen, so this Mother’s Day I made, for my mom, a Hot Brown sandwich! This stands to perfect reason, the more I thought about it. When your mother is legendary, what could be more appropriate to cook for her than the legendary Hot Brown?
So I set about obtaining the original recipe for this culinary wonder. That was easy enough, considering the Brown Hotel is forthcoming with their secrets, allowing me to replicate their genius as much as I was able. Unfortunately, mom was never able to make it down to Kentucky when I was there, so I fully intended to provide her with the authentic experience of a genuine Hot Brown. I was able to bring back many a good thing from Kentucky. Beautiful blankets from the woolen mills of Berea, handmade silver jewelry from the artisans, and great bourbon are just a few of the things that travel well. A Hot Brown? Not a chance. Luckily, the Brown Hotel came to the rescue and gave me the secrets, which I will share with you below.
Time With Mom:
Being able to spend such great time with my mom is something I am very conscious about. Having many friends who are not as fortunate to still have their mom’s with them, I am especially grateful to be able to make this special gesture for my own mother. It also makes me think of all the great mom’s I am surrounded by in my life. In particular, I am remembering Donna Forsberg and how she always had a smile for me. Linnea, Donna’s daughter and my “sister”, spent mother’s day in England watching her niece get married. She is another amazing mom and it is such a special experience!
Also foremost in my mind is Lani, Ann and Mary Weaver. Lani and Ann are with their mom on this special day, though illness is fast upon Mary. It’s a blessing they can be there with her and my prayers are with the Weaver clan. They are very close to my heart, especially at this difficult time. I could go on listing all the amazing mom’s I am lucky enough to have in my orbit, but that would turn this article into a novella. Suffice it to say I count myself very lucky and enjoy this day and the opportunity to say thank you to all the moms out there.
What is a Hot Brown?
The Hot Brown is an open faced sandwich of roasted turkey and bacon that was originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY. In 1926, shortly after the hotel opened in 1923, Chef Fred Schmidt created this sandwich as an alternative to late night ham and egg dinners for the hungry dance crowd.
The sandwich has become famous, and spread to areas far across the nation. You can find the Hot Brown, by name or called something similar, in nearly every state. However it remains emblematic of and a point of pride to Kentucky and its residents.
In fact, it was at The Brown Hotel that I had my first real Hot Brown. It was delicious and an experience to remember. Much like having a caramel roll at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, or Tim Horton’s coffee at 7am in any small town ice arena in Canada. Take my word for it, Tim Horton’s tastes better at 7 in a hockey rink. If it’s a really good arena they will also have Timmies glazed chocolate doughnuts or Tim Bits. Combined, it is a breakfast to be bested only by the full English breakfast served by Jeff Temperley in Panama City Beach at his restaurant Temperley’s British Eatery – formerly known as Eat My Pasty. Which is, I have to say, one of my favorite places on the planet. I still wistfully think of pasty’s, shepherd’s pie and a cold Yuengling.
The Brown Hotel
The Brown Hotel opened in 1923, a mere 10 months after the start of construction of this 16 story behemoth. It was built in the Georgian revival style with the interior done in a primarily English Renaissance style. The first person to sign the guest register was Sir David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister Of England. The Brown Hotel has remained at the epicenter of Louisville culture ever since. Located on the major promenade, it is situated at an intersection that has become known as “Magic Corner” accompanied by a theatre and other entertainment and business fixtures.
Tales of the Brown Hotel are numerous and replete with humor and drama. Al Jolson is said to have gotten in a fight in the bar. Many dignitaries have visited including the Queen of Romania. Victor Mature worked there briefly as an elevator operator before his career in Hollywood. But perhaps my favorite story is from 1937 when the Ohio River flooded and thousands were displaced from their homes in Louisville. The Brown Hotel also was flooded but by virtue of their 16 stories was able to House many people in the upper levels. The story goes that during this great flood, the bell captain caught a fish in the second floor lobby. It seems even the fish in Louisville understood that the Brown was the place to be! I can’t blame them.
The Original Hot Brown Recipe:
Below is the original hot brown recipe from the hotel itself. It includes preparation instructions and everything you need to pull off this bit of culinary magic. So at this point I must note that normally I focus on low calorie recipes, but such is not the case today. Today, we boldly cast calorie-counting aside and instead belly up to the bar for a straight shot of history and culture. If you want the full Kentucky experience, you can have a shot of Bourbon (or a Mint Julep) on the side and you’re right there at “My Old Kentucky Home.”
The Legendary Hot Brown
Ingredients (Makes Two Hot Browns)
- 2 oz. Whole Butter
- 2 oz. All Purpose Flour
- 8 oz. Heavy Cream
- 8 oz. Whole Milk
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
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.
The Secret Is In the Sauce:
The Mornay sauce is a Béchamel – or a white sauce with grated or shredded cheese. That’s the secret to why this is such a delicious sandwich. It’s a delicate sauce and I need more practice making it. My recollection is that the sauce at The Brown Hotel is not as “fluffy” or substantial as my version – and I suspect that might be because I may have cooked it slower, allowing the flour and milk/cream to become a bit more doughy than the original. That bit of experimentation aside, it was delicious and the mornay sauce was amazing. I suspect if it were less substantial the flavors might pop through to an even greater degree! This is cause for more experimentation, surely I can refine this to an appropriate Brown Hotel standard.
Making this for mom will go down as one of my highlights this year. Overall, I was so pleased with how it came out. It was delicious. I was also really happy to do something special for mom that’s isn’t ordinary. In fact, it was so far from ordinary,I couldn’t help but add to the experience by burning the first couple of pieces of bacon!! Mom has an electric range and I am used to cooking with gas …let’s just say it snuck up on me and we had a bit of fun with the smoke detectors! Sometimes when you boldly go forward that first step is fraught with hazard! It’s a small reminder to be humble as I try to tackle great recipes.
Waxing On About Bourbon:
So since we are on the subject of Kentucky, I cannot pass up the opportunity to regale you with my thoughts on one of Kentucky’s greatest exports …bourbon! I never was a bourbon connoisseur before living in Kentucky, but any time spent there will fix that issue right off! Bourbon is to Kentucky as Gangsters are to Chicago, as the Cheese-steak is to Philly, as The Capital building is to Washington DC and as rude, felon hockey players are to Boston. Yes, I don’t like the Boston Bruins. Never have.
So bourbon is a wonderful libation of which 95% of the world’s supply is distilled in Kentucky. In order for it to be called bourbon it MUST meet these 5 conditions:
1. It must be distilled with a mash that is at least 51% corn. (The rest of the mash is filled out with either malted barley, rye or wheat).
2. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less.
3. It must be barreled at 125 proof or less.
4. It must not contain any additives other than water to cut the proof to meet cask requirements.
5. It must be aged in charred new oak barrels.
There is a federal law called the Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon that determines this If it doesn’t meet those conditions then it’s just a mere ….whiskey or something.
The (Almost) Last Word
Over the years I have had an opportunity to sample many bourbons, and while everyone’s palate is different, the following are my favorite – in no particular order:
- Blanton’s: This is a great bourbon distilled by Buffalo Trace. It’s wonderfully smooth and a heck of a sipper.
- Elmer T Lee: This bourbon is the personal recipe of Master Distiller Elmer Lee when he ran the Buffalo Trace distillery. It’s also a wonderful bourbon that is a bit lighter and not as complex as Blanton’s. I think of Elmer T Lee as a great summer bourbon.
- Buffalo Trace: The main line product for the Buffalo Trace distilleries is a very nice bourbon that I find a cut above Jim Beam and on par with some of Beam’s premium brands, and it is likely available at a cheaper price point than either Booker’s or Baker’s.
- Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon: Knob Creek is a Jim Beam product, and you all know how much of a sucker I am for maple-anything! The smoked maple is perfect next to the fire on a cold night. Or even during the evening on the deck in the summer. You can’t go wrong with this is you love maple.
- Woodford Reserve: Woodford (owned by Labrot & Graham who also own Jack Daniels) is a sublime and expressive spirit that is marked by smoothness and a generally pleasant taste. This is another bourbon that is routinely found in my liquor cabinet.
A Great Place for Bourbon
There are a ton more out there that are wonderful. These just happen to be the five that are most often found at my place. Being in Minnesota, I am lucky to have access to Steven Shackleton at Shorewood Liquor, who is a bit of a bourbon expert and brings many special bottlings into his shop. There is always something wonderful and delicious to be found there. As a source for quality bourbon, it’s second to none in Minnesota.