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The Legendary Hot Brown: Perhaps the World's Best Hot Sandwich

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

A meltingly delectable hot brown sandwich

A meltingly delectable hot brown sandwich

What Do These Things Have in Common?

  • A heavy-weight boxer
  • Baseball bats
  • A world-known fried chicken franchise
  • Corn-mash hard liquor
  • An open-faced turkey and cheese grilled sandwich

Allow me to explain each one. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time—but you might know him by another name. In 1961 Cassius Clay converted to Islam and adopted the name Muhammad Ali. He was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.

Since 1894 the Louisville Slugger, a baseball bat, has been manufactured by the Hillerich & Bradsby Company.

KFC (also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) was founded in 1952 by entrepreneur Colonel Harlan Sanders. It is the world's second-largest restaurant chain (McDonald's is No. 1).

By now, you've probably picked up on the common thread of these seemingly unrelated topics. The corn-mash liquor is, of course, Kentucky bourbon, and the sandwich is the legendary hot brown.

Is It Really Legendary?

There is a problem with legends; they are much like the party game “Gossip.” As the story is repeated untruths slip in, sometimes due to a simple misunderstanding, and sometimes to embellish and make the telling more entertaining. A legend is always a mixture of fact and fable—in varying ratios.

In his book The Hot Brown: Louisville’s Legendary Open-Faced Sandwich, Albert W. A. Schmid writes that in 1926 the sandwich was “something warm to eat on a frigid winter night during a break from dancing on the rooftop at the Brown Hotel.” But why this sandwich? Was it a thrifty use of leftovers, or a salty concoction created to ward off hangovers? (Remember that 1926 was smack in the middle of Prohibition—how scandalous!)

Here’s what we do know:

  • It was created by chef Fred K. Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1926.

Everything else we have heard is conjecture. Some say that pimientos were used for color and that tomatoes were considered later on. Peaches might have superseded the tomato and the pimiento. Bacon was or was not on the original. Knock-offs might have traveled to St. Louis where the Mayfair Hotel created the prosperity sandwich, and the Stratford Club in Pittsburg had the Turkey Devonshire.

Sadly, the original recipe was never written down and has been lost with the ages, but since 1990 chef Joe Castro has used his culinary skills to re-create the century-old sandwich for today’s guests at the Brown Hotel.

Using my artistic skills (and a bit of editorial license) I have used the wording provided on the Brown Hotel's actual menu in the J. Graham's Cafe to create this graphic.

Using the actual wording from the Brown Hotel menu, I created this graphic.

Using the actual wording from the Brown Hotel menu, I created this graphic.

Would You Like a Demonstration?

Want to see how professional chefs assemble the hot brown? Here's a video from the PBS show The Mind of a Chef featuring chefs David Chang and Sean Brock.

"Almost original" hot brown

"Almost original" hot brown

The "Almost Original" Hot Brown

Aimee sounds like my twin sister (if I had a twin sister). She has figured out that making tasty dishes at home is cheaper and (usually) easier than going out. Her hot brown recipe is true to the original.

Hot brown sliders

Hot brown sliders

Hot Brown Sliders

My friends who live outside of the United States might not be familiar with the term "slider." Originally, it was the name given to the little steam-grilled onion burgers of White Castle, made with a two-inch bun. Over the years the definition has become a bit looser and refers to any small-size sandwich.

Teri (the author of Buy This Cook That) shows us how to make hot brown sliders with a finger-lickin' good white cheddar cheese gravy. Friends, it just doesn't get better than this!

Hot brown casserole

Hot brown casserole

Hot Brown Casserole

The hot brown is not the only legendary item in this article. Paula Deen is well known for her tasty (and decadent) homemade dishes full of Southern comfort like this hot brown casserole. How can anything that begins with "one pound of bacon" be a bad thing?

Hot brown quiche

Hot brown quiche

Hot Brown Quiche

Stephanie is the creator of Plain Chicken, a blog she began 12 years ago as a means of keeping track of her recipes. She soon began photographing her recipes and expanding her writing and creating efforts. In 2012 she quit her corporate job to focus full-time on her blog.

Her hot-brown quiche is typical of her creativity and wonderful photography. It can be made ahead and frozen and is perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

Hot brown skillet dip (look at that gooey cheese!)

Hot brown skillet dip (look at that gooey cheese!)

Hot Brown Skillet Dip

All of the flavors that you associate with the hot brown sandwich are assembled in a hot dip. This would be a great food to serve as a Super Bowl (or Kentucky Derby?) party at your house.

Gluten-free hot brown

Gluten-free hot brown

Gluten-Free Hot Brown

I love my gluten-sensitive friends, and so found this recipe for gluten-free hot brown that will not leave you wanting. Sabra uses almond flour to create a bready base for her version of the hot brown.

Now, I have a question from my gluten-free friends. I'm thinking that thinly sliced russet or Yukon gold potatoes could substitute for the bread as the foundation of this dish. Everything else (size of pan and cooking time) would remain the same. What do you think of that idea?

Vegan hot brown pizza

Vegan hot brown pizza

Vegan Hot Brown Pizza

I couldn't leave this topic without finding a vegan version of the legendary hot brown. Casey is the Bitchy Baker—don't let the name fool you. Casey is a dear and creates imaginative "tastes-like-the-real-thing" vegan recipes like this vegan hot brown pizza.

Start out with a really noteworthy pizza crust. Instead of water, Casey uses beer to ramp up the yeasty flavor and crispy texture. Yes, it takes a bit of time to make vegan bacon (using coconut) and vegan cheese, but you're worth it!

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 22, 2020:

Miss Dora, what's wrong with eating? Everything in moderation and all will be fine. Yes, I will be making that quiche next week. Our typical breakfast is cereal or toast, but we love eating "breakfast-type-foods" for dinner. Brinner?

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 22, 2020:

Thank you for all these hot brown ideas. The quiche and the pizza are my favorites, but they all make me want to eat. Excellent!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 22, 2020:

Shauna, I did it again! Got you to look before lunchtime and you're hungry. My work here is done--I can go home LOL.

I agree, that quiche looks wonderful. I've already planned the menus in CD-land for this week, but I think next week this will happen. Have a great rest of your week Sis.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 22, 2020:

Linda, I've never heard of Hot Brown, but it sure looks yummy! Cheesy, saucy, gooey. How can you go wrong?

The original looks good and so does the quiche version. That quiche looks so light and fluffy. The author/creator of the dish does a wonderful job of photographing her food.

You're making me hungry!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 22, 2020:

Bill, you can do this. It's certainly comfort food and you and Bev will be needing that on these cold, rainy days. Hard to believe that less than 2 weeks ago we were sweltering and complaining about the smoke.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 22, 2020:

Pamela, Paula Deen is certainly entertaining and, because of some health issues, she has streamlined much of her cooking to be healthier. (Obviously, the one I posted above was an old recipe). I had fun writing the history part and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope you have a wonderful week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 22, 2020:

It may be legendary, but I've never heard of a Hot Brown. Maybe it's not legendary in Olympia, but everywhere else???? How did I miss this in seventy-one years?

Sigh!

Get ready for the rain, my friend!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 22, 2020:

Flourish, Plain Chicken is one of my "go-to" blogs when I'm looking for innovative recipes. She makes my job so much easier.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 22, 2020:

Hot Brown is a new term for me. All of these recipes look wonderful delicious. Those chefs in the video look they are having a good time.

When I think of ny decadent food I think of Paula Deen. She is another entertaining chef to watch. I love the historical aspect of Hot Brown also. Thanks for a wonderful article, Linda.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 21, 2020:

Now these recipes are something my husband could chow down on! I don’t know where to start! Definitely bookmarking this. That Plain Chicken blog is one of my favorites. I’m not subscribed to many, but hers is great. I have followed it for years and gotten several amazing recipes from her.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on September 21, 2020:

I was sure I spelled "rolls" wrong but I couldn't change it because you have to approve comments Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 21, 2020:

Well Eric, I'm glad I've got you going. I can almost hear your brain spinning. Have fun, my friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 21, 2020:

Sorry I will have to come back again. The whole idea of a Hot Brown and then a Quiche? Now I took your egg suggestions to heart but we must draw lines somewhere.

OTOH it has me thinking hihihi

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on September 21, 2020:

Dinner roles...of course. Silly me.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 21, 2020:

John, thank you for your kind words. I think dinner rolls make a reasonable substitute for a sandwich bun. As for the history lesson, that's the part that I enjoy the most.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on September 21, 2020:

Hmm, never heard of the “hot brown” but all these recipes look decadently yummy. We do have sliders here, however, quite a recent import though. However I have never seen the two-inch buns available anywhere for sale so don’t know how you could make them at home without making your own buns. I always enjoy the history part of your articles, Linda.