The history of the Kentucky Hot Brown is rooted in late-night revelry at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. The story goes that following a late night of drinking and dancing, partygoers at this landmark hotel were hungry and needed something to soak up the evening’s alcohol, so the chef whipped up a meal with what he had: thick slices of bread, roast turkey, bacon, cheese, cream, and tomatoes. It was such a hit that it went on the hotel’s menu; to this day, it’s one of the most popular dishes served at the Brown Hotel. This version spices it up with jalapeños in the sauce.
For the Mornay sauce
4 cups heavy cream
1⁄4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 tsp. ground white pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 jalapeños, seeds and membranes removed, 1 cut into 1⁄4-inch dice and the other sliced, for garnish
2 cups grated Manchego cheese
For the Hot Browns
Nonstick cooking spray
12 slices French bread or Texas toast, toasted and crusts removed
1-1⁄2 lb. roasted and sliced turkey breast
12 strips Benton’s bacon or applewood-smoked bacon, cooked
12 to 18 slices heirloom tomatoes, lightly salted
Grated Manchego cheese, for topping
Position a rack in the center of a convection oven and heat the oven to 450°F.
Make the sauce
In a medium saucepan, warm the heavy cream with the nutmeg, white pepper, and salt over medium heat just until the mixture has bubbles around the edges of the pan but it is not boiling. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour, stirring or whisking constantly to make a blonde roux; cook for 2 minutes to cook out the flour taste. Slowly add the warm cream to the roux, whisking constantly to prevent lumps and until the mixture is slightly thickened. Add the diced jalapeños and cheese and whisk until the cheese has melted and everything is blended. Adjust the seasonings. Keep warm.
Assemble the Hot Browns
Each Hot Brown will be assembled and cooked in an individual greased oval casserole dish. Assembling one serving at a time, place 2 slices of toast on the bottom of the dish. Top each with sliced turkey and then 3⁄4 cup of the Mornay sauce. Place the bacon slices on top, add the tomatoes, and top with grated Manchego. Place the dish in the oven and cook until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.