My mother used to make a dish she called hot browns on cold nights when we were kids. I loved hot brown nights. I didn’t know that hot browns were a real dish, something with a history and many fanatical supporters and traditionalists, I just thought it was something yummy my mom invented, specific to our house. I have to admit that my mom’s version was not traditional. It involved sliced turkey, ham, and cheddar cheese soup from a can. My mom always made them in these white porcelain dishes that I think of today as hot brown dishes.
As an adult, who now cooks the vast majority of our family's Thanksgiving meal, I have asked my mom to make hot browns with the leftover turkey. So it occurred to me some years ago that I should develop a recipe for this favorite treat. In researching the idea, I discovered how serious the discussion of the Kentucky hot brown is, with fervent camps for versions with sliced tomatoes, and those without.
I even had a hot brown in Kentucky that had potato chips piled on top. But I didn’t necessarily want to share the classic recipe, but to recreate the memory from my childhood. So I call these Tennessee hot browns to stay out of the battle. I like lots of cheddar cheese, and no tomatoes, but crispy bacon is always a good thing. The sandwiches are hot and cheesy and comforting and perfect for a long weekend.
Tennessee hot browns
Makes 4 sandwiches
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese (plus a little for sprinkling)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices white bread
About 2 pounds sliced roasted turkey
8 strips bacon, cooked until crispy
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour until smooth and pale in color. Whisk in the milk, cooking until the sauce is thick. Whisk in the cheese and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Preheat the broiler of your oven. Lay a slice of bread in the bottom of each of four oven proof dishes. If you don’t have individual dishes, lay the bread in a 13 by 9-inch dish. Layer the turkey on top of the bread, then pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of each sandwich.
3. Broil the hot browns until the tops are speckled brown and bubbling, about 5 minutes – but watch carefully. Lay the bacon slices on top of the hot browns and serve immediately.