Happy Derby Day!!! My husband is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, "the land of beautiful horses and fast women" so the first Saturday of May is a special day for us. The annual Run for the Roses brings back wonderful memories from the beginning of our courtship for me, and I enjoy celebrating those cherished moments with a festive meal! Let me take you back a moment... We started dating just before Thanksgiving 2005. By Valentine's Day, Hubs was transferred to Columbus, Ohio, and I was still stationed in Norfolk, Virginia (we were both active duty Navy at the time; now it's just my husband). One night, before he moved, we were hanging out in my apartment and I jokingly told my then-boyfriend that he should take me to the Derby since I'd never been. He replied that that was a great idea and I didn't think any more of it; I kinda thought he was joking, since the event was months away, our relationship was new, and he was about to move...I didn't want to get my hopes up since I didn't know how serious we really were. Well, he was serious, and a couple of months later, I was on a plane to Ohio, where he'd pick me up and then we'd drive to his parents house in Kentucky. I'd meet them and we'd spend the weekend, go to the races, and then I'd fly back to the East Coast. Let me be clear: I had no idea how big a deal the Derby was. I didn't get a big hat (didn't know I needed one). I didn't realize just how expensive it was to be anywhere but the in-field. I didn't know anything about horse races, Secretariat, the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, or mint juleps. I learned quickly, though! Apparently my now-husband called his mom at the last minute to let her know he was bringing me home and taking me to the Derby. She scrambled and called in favors of everyone she knew to get us seated tickets. She also arranged a pre-race brunch at a high-falutin' country club, which included gourmet boxed lunches to take to the racetrack. We had great seats, drank juleps all day, bet on nearly every race, and had a wonderful time! And so, now every year on Derby Day, I remember our first big event as a couple and celebrate by making Kentucky Hot Browns, Derby Pie, and Mint Juleps! Now...on to the recipe!!
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
Salt & pepper
14 oz. thick-sliced roasted chicken breast
2 slices thick bread (I use sourdough)
4 slices fried bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a roux. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk half-and-half into the roux and cook over medium heat until the it begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in cheese until the sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place bread in an oven-safe dish and cover each with 7 ounces of chicken. Take the tomatoes and set them alongside the base of each sandwich. Pour half the sauce over each sandwich to completely cover each Hot Brown. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.
Serve with Fried Green Tomatoes, Roasted Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto, Mint Juleps, and Derby Pie.
Recipe adapted from The Brown Hotel at www.brownhotel.com.