At first glance, Kentucky and Montana have little in common. Kentucky is an eastern “commonwealth,” has almost 100 years on us on statehood, and boasts some much larger cities than Big Sky Country.
A closer look shows several similarities — we are both coal country states, have wide open rural spaces, a love of horses, and more. And I’m convinced a Kentucky original dish is destined to be a post-Thanksgiving tradition in Montana with all of those nice turkey leftovers.
It’s a “Hot Brown,” an open-face hot turkey sandwich invented in Louisville about 100 years ago at The Brown Hotel (hence the name). Slices of turkey get placed on a nice piece of toast, topped with a broiled tomato, a cheese sauce and an “X” marks the spot of bacon on top. This is definitely a fork and knife situation and perfect for brunch, lunch or whatever.
I have my own Thanksgiving leftover traditions like turkey pot pies, cold turkey sandwiches and turkey soup. But if you have some family staying with you on the Friday following Thanksgiving, this Hot Brown recipe should be what you serve your guests for brunch as a surprise.
The jammy tomato, cheese sauce and bacon take your taste buds in directions you probably didn’t take for Thanksgiving. A little acid from the broiled tomato, a Parmesan cheese sauce that adds a unique creamy layer of flavor you don’t expect, and a bit of smokiness from that bacon. If you are the person that can’t resist eating a slice or two of bacon before the meal (like me), make a few extra.
One other fun element to this dish is you get to put several kitchen gadgets to work to assemble this tasty dish — the toaster for the foundational toasted bread, your broiler for the tomato, your stovetop for the bacon and the cheese sauce. One tip for the broiler — do not walk away while you are broiling! Just 15-30 seconds can be the difference in gold brown and carbonized food. Watch your food like a hawk.
Maybe it’s a little more work than slapping some white bread around a cold slice of leftover turkey, but your stomach will thank you for this elevated treat. You get bonus points if you use a nice Montana-grown turkey and some bacon from one of our many Big Sky Country bacon producers.
4 slices of thick, crusty bread
1 large tomato
4-8 slices of ¼ inch baked leftover turkey breast
1 1/2 cup milk (2% or whole)
1 tbsp of flour
8 slices of bacon
1 tbsp of leftover bacon grease
1 cup of white cheddar or provolone
Optional: Fresh parsley, hot sauce
Cook 8 slices of bacon. Once golden, remove them onto a dish lined with a paper towel. Reserve one tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat. Add the flour and allow it to cook for a minute on medium. Add 1 ½ cups of room temperature milk and allow it to simmer and thicken. Remove from the heat and add half of the grated white cheddar or provolone. Allow the cheese to slowly stir into the sauce and check for seasoning.
Turn on your oven broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and cut your tomato into 1/2-inch slices. Drizzle your tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Put into the oven so they are 6-8 inches from the broiler and let them go for about 3-4 minutes. In a toaster, lightly toast your four slices of bread.
Line another baking sheet with foil and place your four pieces of bread on there. To assemble, place the turkey on the bread, followed by the tomato. Spoon some of the sauce on the top, followed by the rest of the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown. Take it out and make an “X” with the bacon. Add the parsley and hot sauce if you are using it.
Jon Bennion is a native Montanan, born and raised in Billings. Outside of his day job as an attorney, you can find Jon experimenting in the kitchen and developing recipes that often feature a Montana ingredient or story. Jon posts on Instagram as Intermediate Chef (@intermediatechef) and lives in Clancy.