Kentucky Hot Brown Macaroni and Cheese

The Kentucky Hot Brown is a classic open-faced sandwich beloved in Kentucky. It was created by Fred Schmidt in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville and features thick Texas toast topped with slices of roast turkey, tomato and bacon and doused with Mornay sauce. Here, we took the essential components of a Hot Brown and combined them for an untraditional macaroni and cheese with the soul of the original. The halved cherry tomatoes add pops of brightness to each bite of pasta coated in the rich, creamy sauce, while a crunchy bacon and bread topping nod to the dish's origins. Be careful while cooking the Mornay sauce; keep the whisk in contact with the bottom of the pot while whisking to ensure that the sauce doesn't get lumpy or scorched.

KY Hot Brown Mac and Cheese
Photo: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen
Active Time:
55 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 15 mins
Servings:
8

Ingredients

Toppings

  • 4 thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon slices (5 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • 2 ¼ cups cubed (1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces) baguette (from 1 [12-ounce] baguette)

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme

  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Macaroni and Cheese

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

  • ¼ cup (about 2 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour

  • 6 cups whole milk

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 2 teaspoons onion powder

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • teaspoon ground white pepper

  • 1 pound Gruyère cheese, grated (about 4 cups)

  • 8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 2 cups), plus 1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated with a Microplane grater (about 1 cup), divided

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to pkg. directions

  • 1 ½ pounds  chopped cooked turkey breast (about 4 cups)

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Directions

Prepare the Toppings:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium, stirring occasionally, until crispy and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels; set aside at room temperature until ready to use. Measure 4 tablespoons bacon drippings into a medium-size heatproof bowl; discard remaining drippings.

  2. Add baguette cubes, thyme, salt, and black pepper to reserved bacon drippings in bowl, and stir to combine. Arrange mixture in an even layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until bread cubes are crispy and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once halfway through cook time. Remove from oven; let cool completely on baking sheet, about 10 minutes. Transfer bread mixture to a small bowl; set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

Prepare the Macaroni and Cheese:

  1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium. Whisk in flour; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and begins to turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a gentle boil over medium (make sure to remain in contact with bottom of pot while whisking to prevent scorching or lumps as milk mixture comes up to a gentle boil). Reduce heat to low; cook, whisking often, until mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk in salt, onion powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and white pepper. Toss together Gruyère and the 8 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano in a medium bowl until combined. Add cheese mixture in 4 additions to milk mixture in pot, whisking constantly and waiting until cheese has completely melted and milk mixture is smooth before next addition. Add cooked pasta and turkey, and stir to combine. Stir in cherry tomatoes. Season with additional salt to taste. Remove from heat.

  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with butter, and place on a baking sheet. Pour macaroni mixture into prepared baking dish, and smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle with the 1 ounce Microplane-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, until macaroni mixture is bubbling and golden brown on top, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Top with toasted bread and bacon mixture and serve.

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