© Barnard & Meyer

Every Derby party needs it.

Max Bonem
April 25, 2017

There are many fine Kentucky foods and beverages to enjoy during the Derby. For instance, mint juleps, country ham and a scoop of Benedictine dip are all excellent options. However, there is no dish that acts as better sustenance during a long day of Derby bourbon drinking than the legendary Kentucky Hot Brown.

The Kentucky Hot Brown was created by chef Fred K. Schmidt at Louisville's Brown Hotel in 1926. A proper Hot Brown, which the Brown Hotel continues to serve to this day, is an open-faced sandwich with turkey and bacon that is covered in Mornay sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and then baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the Mornay begins to brown. Tomatoes are the most common addition to the Hot Brown, but other variations include adding ham, pimentos or mushrooms and substituting cheddar or American cheese for the Mornay.

Why would anyone put these ingredients together? While constructing his own take on the Kentucky Hot Brown during the first season of Mind of a Chef, chef David Chang said it best: "I think we are in agreement that whoever invented it was drunk or cooking for drunk people.”

According to the legend, the Brown Hotel hosted more than 1,000 people per night at its dinner dances during the 1920s, and chef Schmidt was looking for something new to feed late-night attendees. He invented the Hot Brown and soon enough, 95 percent of the Brown Hotel's visitors were ordering it. 

Schmidt did take inspiration from a historical dish, Welsh rarebit—toast covered in a sauce that consists of beer, cream, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, butter and cheese, which is then broiled. In true American fashion, Schmidt took this classic, put bacon on it and called it his own.

For more Kentucky Derby recipes and suggestions, check out our Ultimate Guide to next week's race.