When a sandwich is served with a knife and fork, you know you’re in for something special.
It could mean the sandwich is too hot to pick up with your fingers or too big to fit in your mouth, but under the best of circumstances, it means it’s just too deliciously messy to manage without help. A Hot Brown is that kind of sandwich. First served in 1923 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., the Hot Brown was created by Fred Schmidt, the hotel chef. According to historians, every evening more than a thousand people would come to the hotel for the dinner dances. After twirling around the enormous ballroom, the dancers headed to the restaurant for ham and eggs.
At some point they got tired of the same old thing, and Schmidt decided to whip up something different for the late night supper menu. What Schmidt did was to take an incredibly simple idea, a turkey sandwich, and transform it into a culinary sensation. “It’s just an open face sandwich,” says Joe Castro, who is now the hotel chef.
That may be, but the Hot Brown is much more than a sum of its parts. The sandwich starts with thinly sliced turkey breast arranged on white toast. A generous amount of Parmesan sauce is poured over the top so the sandwich practically sits in a shallow puddle. Next it’s run under a broiler to brown the top and immediately before leaving the kitchen the sandwich is decorated with bacon and tomatoes. “It’s a wonderful thing,” admits Castro, who figures he serves thousands of Hot Browns every year.
When making Hot Browns, the temptation to customize is hard to resist. You can add lots of things: ham, mushrooms, asparagus, roasted peppers. The sandwich will taste great, but it won’t be Fred Schmidt’s recipe.
Recipe by Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.