Kentucky classic brings Southern hospitality to Northeast

Photo by: Alex Trunnel
Photo by: Alex Trunnel
Photo by: Alex Trunnell

If I have learned anything in my time here at Vassar, it’s that there are some things that are done differently back home: the number of cowboy hats you’re likely to pass on the street, the appreciation of flowing bluegrass, the amount of butter in food. I love New York, I really do, but around this time of year, I begin to realize that many of the stick-to-your-ribs delicacies I grew up with are simply not in line with the culinary style of the Northeast. As I sit writing in the cold, I can’t help but crave the most rib-sticking food of them all: the luscious, unique and oh-so-heavy Kentucky Hot Brown. Created by Louisville’s famous Brown Hotel, the swankiest place this side of the Mississippi, this dish has spread the Commonwealth and become an incredible staple for many a kid growing up in the land of horses and bourbon.

Still beat from the six-hour cooking ordeal of Thanksgiving, the Hot Brown is made for the lazy day after the holiday. The turkey was already cooked, bacon was cheap this time of year. White bread was always present in my home, as was cheese and milk and flour; so, right there, we had all the ingredients at the ready.

So, though I know the cries of “You’re from the south!” will surely rain down on me, I have decided to bring this KY classic to y’all up here in New York. Please, enjoy responsibly.

Okay, y’all, this is one amazing glob of artery-clogging love. After heating an oven to BROIL, we’re gonna start by making ourselves a nice white pan gravy. If you don’t know what this means, YOU’RE GONNA LEARN HOW. Start with a skillet and melt the butter in it over, say, medium high-ish heat.

When the butter is all nice and melted, begin adding a bit of flour. I do indeed mean a bit; this is a slow and steady process. Sprinkle in a little, whisk until it’s uniformly added to the butter, then repeat. Add the flour bit by bit, but not too much flour: Crumbly means you have gone too far, and you’ll have to melt more butter and do more whisking.

Add milk the same way you added the flour: slowly, whisking as you go. Keep in mind that “splash” is a very technical term. You want a smooth, silky sauce. This takes some time, but it’s worth it.

Now, take the parmesan and sprinkle it right into the sauce. Because of some chemistry stuff, it melts better if it’s freshly grated, but it tastes delish either way. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you may also need some more milk to get that perfect gravy texture. Turn the heat to the lowest setting, and keep an eye on it: You don’t want the gravy to burn before you can use it!

Get some bacon cooking in a skillet (this one doesn’t have to be treated, because bacon plus bacon just equals bacon, much in the same way you cannot add to infinite happiness). You want to be sure not to burn it, and crispiness, though not necessary, is always a bonus. Shuffle on over to the nearest outlet, and toast your bread.

When the toast pops, put it on a cookie sheet. Pile on some of that sliced turkey, however much your little heart desires. Take the bacon off of the heat, place it on some paper towels to dry the grease, and drain off the grease. Keep it in a can or jar; bacon grease is actually liquid gold in disguise. Add some of the now-cooked bacon to the toast and turkey, enough to make sure you get bacony goodness in every heart-wrenching bite.

Now, it’s time for dat gravy. Pour some on, enough to smother the turkey and bacon. Sprinkle on some cheddar cheese to finish, enough to make your soul sing. Once the cheese is sitting proudly atop the bread, add some tomato if you’re feeling that fresh, acidic finisher. If not, just go for broke and leave it off, the way I always did as a kid.

To finish this masterpiece of a food, place that mass of pure joy under the broiler until the cheese is all melty and goopey and you just can’t handle the unctuous smell anymore. Enjoy your slice of southern heaven!


The Recipe


Two slices of white bread: make your own, if you want. Go crazy.

Thinly sliced turkey breast, as much as your heart desires.

Most people say 2 strips of bacon per slice of bread, but I’m saying 4. Life’s too short, man.

2 tbsp of butter. I prefer sweet cream butter; margarine is just oil in disguise.

Flour. How much varies, because not all tablespoons are created equal.

Milk. Again, exact amounts will vary.

Salt and black pepper (freshly ground adds some oomph).

Parmesean cheese, somewhere in the vicinty of  3-4 tablespoons.

Because one type of cheese is never enough: grab a bowlful of enough Cheddar cheese for sprinkling.

Tomato, sliced. Or not. This one is up to you and your taste buds.

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