If you have never had a hot brown before, you are missing out. Big time. According to gotolouisville.com, the hot brown originated from the historical Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky in 1926. The chef, Fred K. Schmidt, created an alternative to the ham and egg suppers that were served to dance patrons late in the evening. The hot brown consists of an open-faced cheese sandwich with country ham and turkey, covered in an amazing cheese sauce with bacon and tomatoes on top.
My family has been eating hot browns for as long as I can remember. For us it’s mostly a winter seasonal dish around the holidays. We would always go to Critchfield’s Meats in Lexington and get the absolute best country ham. It’s not that tough thick country ham that you usually find in the grocery store, but the thinly sliced, melt-in-your-mouth kind of country ham. We would use part of it to make the first hot brown of the season (my mom always used leftover Thanksgiving turkey and only a portion of the country ham. The rest went in the freezer for more hot browns).
I’m going to give you the recipe as I originally received it from my mom, but I have made some minor changes to the recipe and I’ll share those too.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Before making the sauce, toast the bread and place in the bottom of a glass or casserole dish.
- Cook bacon. I use the precooked stuff and put it in the microwave until it gets crispy.
- Arrange the turkey and ham on top of bread. Note: This is one thing I do differently. I put my country ham and turkey into the food processor and then spread it on the toast. I like the consistency better and it’s MUCH easier to eat.
- In a saucepan on medium heat, melt butter. Add cornstarch, mustard, salt and cayenne pepper. Mix until you have a sort of paste consistency.
- Add about 1/2 cup of the milk (I use skim milk in my sauce and it works fine, in case you might wonder) and stir. Stir constantly. You want to try to blend everything so the cornstarch doesn’t clump.
- Once your sauce has thickened, slowly add the rest of the milk. Continue stirring constantly. Sauce will thicken again. Continue to stir and add the cheddar cheese. Once cheese has completely melted, remove from heat and pour over your toast, turkey and ham. Sprinkle with paprika.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Remove and add a tomato slice on top of each piece of toast and arrange bacon on top of cheese sauce. Bake for 5 more minutes. Note: I crunch up the bacon and sprinkle it on top and put it back in the oven. I also chop the tomatoes and put on top AFTER it’s done baking. I just like it better that way.
A few other notes: This is a great dish for brunch, but really it works for any meal. You can make it ahead of time and put in the refrigerator (I usually bake it first as directed and then reheat later). While I don’t know this for sure, I suspect this can also be frozen pretty easily. You can even use each piece of toast as a guide for a serving and then freeze each serving individually.