Despite his international culinary heritage – summers in Marrakesh, winters in Montreal where his parents, of French Moroccan descent, had moved and training at the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec followed by stints working at both Club Med and the Ritz Carleton in the Caribbean and Mexico, Laurent Geroli knew there was one particular dish he had to perfect as the executive chef at Louisville’s historic Brown Hotel – the Hot Brown.
It’s the signature sandwich not only of the Brown Hotel which opened its doors in the early 1920s, but also of Louisville. Despite the sophistication of the hotel with its gilt, velvets and mosaics, the Hot Brown – a pile of turkey, bacon, cheese and tomatoes stacked on bread and covered with a creamy Mornay sauce – remains one of the hotel’s best sellers since first invented here in 1926.
“We sell an average of 700 a week,” Laurent tells me, noting that the sandwich is available 18 hours every day. “We don’t have it between midnight and 6 in the morning because we don’t have a saucier in the kitchen at that time to make the Mornay sauce.”
Of course during the Kentucky Derby, the demand for Hot Browns along with Mint Juleps goes sky high.
It was Chef Fred Schmidt who invented the Hot Brown. Faced with more than 1200 guests every evening who came to the Brown for its dinner dancing and stayed so long that they wanted breakfast, Schmidt decided to think beyond ham and eggs and came up with the Hot Brown – which is basically an open faced turkey sandwich made mega caloric with the addition of bacon, cheese and cream sauce.
“To make this sandwich, you can’t just use deli meat,” Laurent tells me. “We roast and carve our own fresh turkey breasts and our own bread.”
If there’s a tweaking to the original recipe (see below), Laurent will make Hot Brown appetizers using phyllo cups, stacking them with the ingredients and then browning in the oven. They’re easier to serve at cocktail parties than platters of the open faced sandwich.
The Legendary Hot Brown Recipe
Makes Two Hot Browns
2 ounces whole butter
2 ounces all purpose flour
16 ounces heavy cream
1/2 Cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast
2 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 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 salt and pepper to taste.
For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place 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.