I have three favorite sandwiches. Three. And to be completely honest, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between them if I didn’t divide them into seasons.
The first is my spring and summer romance: a roast beef sandwich on a toasted buttery croissant, light on the mayo (notice, I did NOT say “light mayo,” which is an entirely different disgusting beast), smoky provolone, baby spinach, a whole sliced Roma tomato, and a little sprinkle of pepper.
Then there’s my fall favorite: sausage, peppers, and onions on a hoagie roll. No need to add a single thing. Not even cheese–unless you really want to; I wouldn’t stop you.
But then, then there’s my winter romance. A big, hot and hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, open-faced, eat-it-with-a-knife-and-fork sandwich. Honestly, the only difficulty with this one is in coming across a tomato in the wintertime that does the sandwich real justice.
I’m talking Comfort food with a capital C.
I’m talking about a Hot Brown.
Can you feel me, people?
I said Hot Brown.
Before boy, I had never even heard of a Hot Brown, but one day in 2002 during our pre-cable days, I stumbled across a documentary on PBS: Sandwiches You Will Like. Who, I ask you, would not stop and watch that? Someone without a gastronomic soul, that’s who. And you must remember, this was pre- Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Truly Rick Sebak had his finger on the pulse of America.
Anyway, Sebak highlighted the Hot Brown, made famous by the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.
Have you ever heard of one?
Think Welsh rarebit or rabbit, which has no rabbit to be found: toast slathered in cheese sauce. Now, take it up about ten notches.
Thick hearty, toasted bread smothered in a hot cheese sauce, topped with turkey, bacon, tomato, and gooey melted cheese.
You know you want one.
ML’s Hot Browns
6 slices good, hearty bread
2 tbsp + 1 tsp butter, divided
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (may need a little more)
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded and divided
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
6 slices bacon, cut in half
1 tomato, sliced
1/4 cup baby Bella mushrooms, diced
1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
1 lb turkey, cooked & shredded
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place 6 slices of bread in a single layer on the sheet.
Put in the oven until bread is mostly dry and slightly toasty–go for 5 minutes at a time, and keep an eye on it. You want to use good bread. Don’t make your slices too thick or too thin. You want them to be able to stand up to all the deliciousness that their about to be smothered in, but you don’t want them to be too thick because then they just soak it all up into a mushy mess. And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t used sliced sandwich bread. For this recipe run, I used a loaf of Italian bread, and I sliced it between 1/2-3/4 inch thick.
2. While the bread is drying out, begin the sauce. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the two tablespoons of flour until flour has completely melted. You want to try to cook out the floury taste. The gently whisk in 2 cups of milk. Whisk periodically, bringing the mixture to a boil. The sauce should thicken a good deal. If it gets too thick, add a little milk. Too thin, boil it a little longer.
When it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, reduce the heat to low and add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and then enough salt and pepper to taste. You’re going to have to go by your own taste buds for the amounts of salt and pepper. Remember, though, you’re adding bacon to this sandwich, and that’ll bring some of its own salty goodness to the dish.
After the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, remove it from heat. Don’t leave it too long. Burned sauce is a pain to clean up.
3. Remove your bread from the oven, if you haven’t already done so.
4. In a frying pan over medium heat, fry your 12 pieces (6 slices, cut in half) until they are cooked, but still very tender– not to crisp because they’ll go into the oven in a little while.
Remove the bacon, and let it rest on a paper towel. Leave the bacon grease in the pan. Trust me!
5. In the same frying pan, add the shredded turkey. I used leftover fried turkey breast and thigh meat. I also didn’t remove the skin.
I’ve done this before with roasted turkey breast, too. I bet you could even buy one of those rotisserie chickens at the grocery store and use that as well. Stir the turkey around until it’s hot and thoroughly coated with all of that bacon goodness. Remove the turkey to the same paper towel that the bacon is resting upon.
6. Now, in the same frying pan, add 1 teaspoon of butter to the remaining bacon/ turkey leftover tidbits. Then, take your chopped shallots and diced mushrooms (only the mushrooms and shallots, mind you– ignore the tomato for now),–the light in my kitchen is terrible this time of year!–
and toss them in, stirring until they are soft and mostly caramelized. Caramelized does not mean burned, though, so keep an eye out. It won’t take long.
Remove the vegetables from the pan.
7. Set your oven to broil. If you have the option for your broiler, choose Low–or, as mine says, LO.
8. Let’s assemble!
Over each slice of dry and slightly toasty bread, ladle a scant tablespoon of cheese sauce.
Then evenly divide the hot turkey onto each slice of saucy bread.
Then ladle another tablespoon or two over the turkey. Don’t be stingy! You won’t run out, and you probably won’t use it all.
Now, here’s where you’l notice that my hubby and I don’t have the same tastes when it comes to certain things on our sandwiches.
Three of these fellas were topped with the shallot and mushroom mix.
All of them were topped with 2 pieces of bacon each (essentially 1 slice of bacon per sandwich).
Then the three that got the shallots and mushrooms were topped with 2 slices of tomato.
How anyone could not love the deliciousness that is a perfectly ripe tomato, I’ll never understand.
Then top all of them equally with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Neatness doesn’t count. In fact, if you accidentally drip some onto the baking pan, you’ll thank me later. I also gave mine a sprinkling of pepper over the top. We like it a little hot here.
9. Now pop these bad boys under the broiler until they are hot, bubbly, and just a little brown. Hrm. Hot Browns.
10. Plate ’em up. Three for the hubby.
And three for me.
You’ll want a knife and fork to eat ’em.
And three might be too many for you. We skipped breakfast, and we were HUNGRY.
Oh, and don’t be alarmed if your cheese peels off. Just eat it like a Parmesan chip!
Yield: 2-4 servings, depending upon how hungry you are or aren’t.