Italian Beef

Sunday Dinner – 13 January 2019

Italian Beef Sandwich

Claudia made Italian Beef for Sunday Dinner this week. This is one of our perennial crock pot favorites. A roast, a packet of Italian dressing seasoning, a bottle of beer, some garlic and some pepperoncini go into the pot on low for hours until the beef falls apart. She serves it on buns with Mozzarella and red sauce.

She also made a salad, and sautéed some zucchini and other vegetables as a side. We picked up a quart of her favorite pasta salad (from JR’s Chicken in Kankakee) as well. For dessert, she baked brownies and served it with Aunt Pat’s DQ. Wine was the Ménage à Trois Silk soft red blend, which was an Aldi find and surprisingly nice.

The Kentucky Hot Brown

Kentucky Hot Brown SandwichFor Sunday Dinner each week we do our best to prepare a special meal and usually invite my wife’s parents to join us. After seeing a recent Throwdown episode where Bobby Flay traveled to Louisville, I decided to try my hand at Kentucky Hot Browns this past weekend, and to cook as much of the dish as possible on the grill.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Hot Brown, it’s an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich with Mornay Sauce that originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. It’s since taken its place alongside such regional delights gone large as The Manhattan, The Monte Cristo, The Reuben and The Horseshoe which are all now legendary sandwiches around the world. In fact, Flay notes that it’s one of his own most favorite sandwiches.

Here’s how I prepared our version.

I started with a seven-and-a-half-pound turkey breast, cooking it on the rotisserie atop my Weber Kettle grill, using skills and methods I learned from the authoritative book on the subject, Rotisserie Grilling by Mike Vrobel. I would highly recommend that you read the book, but you can get the short course on rotisserie turkey breast over on his Website.

I used Mike’s basic process and recipe, then added some Herbs de Provence to the bird before grilling and a cup of Hickory chips to the coals. The smell of the smoke and charcoal, and the sound of drippings vaporizing as they hit the drip pan were marvelous as I enjoyed my Sunday morning coffee.

Once the breast was off the spit and resting, I warmed up the Weber Genesis gas grill to cook some thick cut bacon. I’d never tried it on the grill before, but it worked out perfectly. I used a large foil roasting pan that we had left over from last Thanksgiving, arranging the bacon across the bottom, and cooking it over medium-high indirect heat (side burners on medium-high, middle burner off, and the pan in the middle of the grill). I watched the bacon pretty carefully, turning it every few minutes with tongs until it was done.

Now it was time for the cheese sauce. One of our favorite pasta dishes is Giada De Laurentis’ Baked Rigatoni with Béchamel Sauce, and I decided to borrow the sauce from that recipe. It’s actually a Mornay sauce, since you add grated cheese to the Béchamel. In this case, I used a wedge of Fontinella that happened to be on hand. My wife helped to tend the sauce while I grilled some thick tomato slices (a little olive oil, pepper and kosher salt) and warmed up some Texas Toast on the Genesis.

Since I’m terrible at carving — I know, it’s a character flaw — she also sliced some nice thick cuts of the turkey breast, and we were ready to assemble our Hot Browns. We split a piece of toast diagonally for each plate, heaped the turkey on top along with two of the tomato slices, covered it all with the Mornay Sauce and then added a couple of the crisp bacon rashers criss-crossing over the whole mess.

The result was one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. The turkey was done to perfection. I had checked the temperature a little early while it was grilling, and that was fortunate because it had already hit 160 degrees, which is where you want it for the peak of juicy tenderness. The cheese sauce was incredibly rich and thick, the tomatoes added a bright counterpoint to the other savory flavors, and the bacon…oh, my.

We served these with some green beans and onions that were also cooked on the grill (in a foil packet with some of the bacon grease) and a wonderful salad with my wife’s family recipe vinaigrette.

There are a couple of things that I might do differently the next time I make Hot Browns (which will likely be standard fare in our home on Derby Day in the years to come). Firstly, a little cayenne in the cheese sauce might have been nice. Secondly, I think the whole dish could benefit from just a few moments under the broiler after assembly to get the cheese bubbling and bring all the flavors together. I reckon that these two additions ought to take the recipe about as far as it can go, as it was awfully good without them.

The only downside to the whole experience is that my wife liked the turkey so much, she asked again when I’m going to practice with a whole turkey on the rotisserie in anticipation of this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Help! Mike!