Hello, readers! We’re actually not near Louisville this month, as we’ve travelled to England for a vacation. While we’re away, we’re hoping a few of our friends will be guest bloggers as promised (hint, hint, hint!) and maybe we’ll even cook something and photograph it here before darkness falls (which hasn’t happened yet). But for now, in case you missed it, we thought you might enjoy a post we did about Louisville for Raymund at Ang Sarap a while back. Also, if you’re inclined, you might check out our British-oriented blatherings at our somewhat off-the-cuff vacation blog.
Ta-ta for now, and by all means keep a stiff upper lip!
Kentucky is the birthplace of Bourbon whiskey, one of America’s only true native spirits. By the 1920s, Louisville had 12 breweries and over 30 distilleries, many on a section of Main Street known as “Whiskey Row.” The spirits culture was so deeply entrenched that the city’s tony Pendennis Club created the “Old Fashioned” cocktail, a combination of bourbon, bitters, sugar and water which was among the first recorded mixed drinks.
Unfortunately for Louisville’s liquor industry, America decided to institute Prohibition. Fortunately for Louisville drinkers, several avenues to alcohol remained. George Garvin Brown’s cleverly crafted “medical exemption” for his distillery allowed Brown-Forman to remain as Louisville’s only legal distillery. Moonshiners, bathtub gin brewers and rum runners brought what Louisvillians craved, and the city’s entertainment kept on going.
Into this sea of speakeasies, blind tigers and dinner clubs strode lumber baron James Graham Brown, who opened his eponymous Louisville hotel in 1923. While it was lauded in the papers for its opulent and stylish accommodations, the Brown Hotel became best known for its evening “dinner dances,” which were thinly disguised excuses for inebriation. Imagine a house full Roaring ‘20s revelers, Charleston-ing the night away while semi-sneakily swigging from hip flasks full of “medicinal” whiskey.
The hotel’s happiest-face website says that by 1925 (the height of Prohibition) “in the wee hours of the morning, the guests would grow tired of dancing and retire to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Diners were rapidly growing bored with the traditional ham and eggs.” Gourmandistanis believe this is PR-speak for “kitchen staff grew tired of drunks harassing them for not understanding their slurred order, and decided to do something about it.” This is where the Hot Brown comes in.
The Brown Hotel’s kitchen crafted a concoction of roasted turkey-topped toast points, dressed with grilled bacon and drenched in cheesy Mornay sauce, broiled until brown and bubbling hot. Fat, meat, salt and bread, all in a conveniently composed, pre-softened package. You know, drunk food—something that hopefully sticks to your stomach and stabilizes you a bit for your trip home. (We quite emphatically recommend the use of public transport or designated driver for those wishing to overindulge in alcohol.) As many of you surely know, drunk people also like to talk, and word of the Hot Brown began to spread. Before long, establishments all over Louisville were offering their own versions of the dish even at hours when most people don’t usually imbibe.
Like Modjeskas, Benedictine and possibly the cheeseburger, the Hot Brown is now something Louisville proudly points to as a symbol of the city’s culinary ingenuity. And unlike other Louisville traditions such as the Derby party, you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy it. We made our version with roast chicken, which we find tastier than the traditional turkey breast. If you already have some roasted bird, making the Mornay sauce may be the hardest part of the dish (and it’s not that hard). Whether your temperament tends toward Wet or Dry, we think you might enjoy this not-too-difficult taste of Derby Town.
HOT BROWN SANDWICH
(adapted from Lillian Marshall’s The Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book)
Mornay Sauce Ingredients:
- 4 TB butter
- 1 shallot bulb, finely chopped
- 1/3 c. flour
- 3 c. hot milk
- Cayenne pepper
- Splash of sherry
- 2 egg yolks, whisked with a fork
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 c. whipped cream
Mornay Sauce Method:
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add shallot and cook slowly until lightly browned. Add flour and blend to make a roux. Cook until raw flour taste is gone. Add hot milk, stirring the sauce constantly until it is thick and smooth. (Use a whisk if necessary to remove any lumps.) Season to taste with salt, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and sherry.
Temper the egg yolks by stirring some of the hot sauce into them, a little at a time. Then add the tempered egg mixture to the the sauce in the pan. Stir constantly until the tempered yolks are incorporated. Do not let the sauce boil or it will curdle.
Remove sauce from heat. Stir in cheese, then whipped cream.
Ingredients for Each Sandwich:
- 2 pieces white bread, crusts removed and toasted
- Slices of cooked chicken or turkey
- Mornay sauce
- 1 slice cooked bacon
- 1 or 2 sautéed mushroom caps
- Parsley sprig
Put 1 piece of toast in an oven-proof shallow dish. Lay slices of chicken or turkey over the toast. Cover with sauce. (Be generous. Otherwise, the sandwich will be dry.) Broil in oven until top of sauce is lightly browned.
Cut the remaining piece of toast diagonally and place the halves on the sides of the dish. Top with the bacon, mushrooms and parsley.