In “A Christmas Story,” the narrator gleefully describes all of the leftover turkey dishes that won’t be served in his household that winter after the neighbors’ dogs have made away with their dinner: “No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, all gone!”
Not on his list of leftover ideas is one that I grew up with in Louisville, Ky. It’s known as the Hot Brown, and it originated at one of the city’s finer hotels, the Brown.
According to the dish’s history on the hotel’s website, chef Fred Schmidt created the Hot Brown in the 1920s after patrons of the nightly dinner dance grew tired of the same ham and eggs to sober them up before leaving. He combined a Mornay sauce and bacon with turkey breast meat and broiled the dish until it was bubbly. A culinary tradition was born.
The state also had something of a signature dish with the Hot Brown, which I remember in my younger days being served at political functions, at fancy dress dinners, at derby parties, in people’s homes. It was, and is, a staple.
As with any good dish, variations have cropped up over the years. If one is to believe the recipe offered by the Brown, Texas toast is used as the base. I have had it served more often on homemade biscuits. Food Network star Bobby Flay’s gussied up variation uses an egg-batter bread.
Some swear the original did not come with slices of tomato. I like the addition because the freshness and brightness of the tomato’s acid cuts through the rich sauce.
The Brown’s recipe is also served with parsley on top. I don’t recall ever seeing that on a Hot Brown in the past, even when I’ve had it at the Brown Hotel. Nothing about this dish calls for a touch of green. And why would you want to hide the bacon?
I even devised a low-fat version one year using fat-free half-and-half, reduced-fat cheese and turkey bacon. It wasn’t bad, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as more than an experiment.
I visited my folks at the beginning of the month, and we shared a Thanksgiving feast a little early. The next day, Mom whipped up some Hot Browns for us, and she offered a new version: To cut the carbs somewhat (though not completely when you count the flour in the sauce), she left the bread out completely. No biscuits, no Texas toast, nothing. She also served the leftover cran-raspberry relish on the side, which added to its luster. A glass of white Burgundy and you’re all set for some good eats.
So, don’t feel tied to tradition when making your own version. The beauty of this dish is that it will make you forget you’re using leftover turkey.