Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwiches
The story behind these sandwiches is almost as good as their flavor.
When I came across this vintage recipe I was transported back in time. Long gone are the days when open-faced sandwiches were the chicest lunch around, but they were once considered a polite thing to serve your guests. Incidentally they can also be a good way to pinch your pennies since they are highly customizable. This must have been part of the appeal for my chronically frugal mother because she used to make these for us growing up- and she only made frugal recipes!
Once I read the name I was reminded of how affectionally she talked about these sandwiches, being from Virginia and then Kentucky. I was thrilled to have this treat again as adult and the reason why is the wonderful flavor of these single slice sammies.
The name “Kentucky Hot Brown” sandwiches comes from the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. The sandwich was first made for the hotel clientele in 1926. The story goes that people would attend dances in the hotel’s ballroom and be quite peckish once they’d done the Charleston or the waltz all night.
At that time the late night offerings were restricted mainly to ham and egg plates. Repeat attendees to the balls grew tired of the same old and the chef there, Fred Schmidt, created a new treat that could still be made quite efficiently at that late hour. Folks were served this hot sandwich at the Brown Hotel, hence the name.
To make this recipe at home you should start with some sturdy bread and make sure it’s toasted for durability. Sourdough is my favorite, but Texas toast or any thicker bread will also work. I don’t recommend using the soft sandwich bread you’d use for the kids’ lunches as this often falls apart in the oven.
These sandwiches are topped with turkey traditionally, but you could use ham or chicken if you wanted. Then over that goes a layer of tomatoes, then on top of that a thick slathering of mornay sauce.
The sauce is easy to make. You simply make a roux with butter and flour, then add milk, and finally melt the cheese into it. If you’re impatient like me then you can take a metal stick blender to the pot to help the cheese integrate into the sauce quicker.
My mom always added just a bit of paprika and freshly-ground pepper to the sauce. I’ve also added a bit of white pepper to my sauce, just for more interest. You could add chives or red pepper flakes, whatever floats your boat.
The final layer is two pieces of crisp bacon laid criss cross over the top of each sandwich. Then place your pan of sandwiches under the broiler for a few minutes and voilà! You’ve got Kentucky hot brown sandwiches.
Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwiches
Makes 4 open face sandwiches
20m prep time
14m cook time
For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- pinch cayenne pepper
- pinch white pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
For the sandwiches:
- 4 slices toasted sourdough bread
- 9 oz sliced cooked turkey breast
- 1 beefsteak tomato, sliced and patted dry
- pinch salt
- 8 slices crispy cooked bacon
- Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and stir until incorporated. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes until golden in color, stirring often. Whisk in milk and increase heat to medium. Cook for 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring often. Add in cheese.
- Remove from heat and stir until cheese is melted. Use a metal stick blender to further emulsify the mixture if needed. Add Worcestershire sauce, paprika, cayenne, and white pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Arrange bread on lined baking sheet. Add 3-4 slices of turkey followed by 2 tomato slices on each piece of bread. Sprinkle tomatoes with a little salt.
- Divide cheese sauce between each piece of bread, pouring it over the top. Add 2 bacon slices to each sandwich. Set oven to low broil. Bake for 4-7 minutes or until cheese sauce bubbles. Serve while piping hot.
Recipe adapted from Seasoned Kitchen.