Main dish

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich with green chile Mornay sauce

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich | Homesick Texan

It’s not often that you have two special occasions fall on the same day but every once in a while worlds collide. Like this year—with both Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo occurring on the fifth of May.

The Kentucky Derby has a long tradition in American culture and people have been lining up to watch the first race of the Triple Crown since 1875. But Cinco de Mayo is more of recent fascination in the United States, and it’s a celebration that Americans have embraced more out of a love of Mexican food more than any desire to salute the Battle of Puebla, which is what the day honors. (Despite popular belief, it’s not Mexican Independence Day—that occurs on September 16).

Actually, Cinco de Mayo isn’t even celebrated much in Mexico except in the state of Puebla where the battle holds deep significance. But no matter—Americans love a good party so Cinco de Mayo has become a big deal the past few years. And I’m not complaining—I’ll take any excuse to serve up plates of my beloved Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich | Homesick Texan
That said, the Kentucky Derby holds a place in my heart as well. My grandparents went to graduate school in Kentucky and my grandma enjoys telling stories about the excitement that surrounded the day. Since my grandparents were poor college students they never made it to the actual race but this didn’t stop them from enjoying the festivities, which included eating plates of hot browns.

Now, if you’re not familiar with it, the hot brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich that’s been a Kentucky tradition since 1926. The name refers to the sandwich’s place of birth—the Brown Hotel in Louisville—and not the sandwich’s color, which tends to be more white than brown. As for its composition, the sandwich is comprised of a slice of thick toasted bread that’s been topped with roasted turkey, sliced tomatoes and bacon. It’s then drenched in a Mornay sauce, a cheese-based béchamel sauce that’s a distant relation to chile con queso.

Bacon with cheese sauce? Yep, it’s easy to see why the hot brown is a Kentucky favorite, and it’s long been on my list of things to make. Though when I realized that Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo were the same this year, I decided to buck tradition and give the hot brown a Tex-Mex twist as a way to applaud both.

To make my Tex-Mex hot brown, instead of regular bread I used Mexican bolillo rolls, which often form the base of Mexican sandwiches known as tortas. Then I spread on some refried beans, stacked on roasted turkey, poured over a Mornay sauce that I’d spiced up with roasted green chiles, sprinkled on some diced tomatoes and bacon, and slid the open-faced sandwich under the broiler until brown and bubbling. To finish, I scooped on some guacamole and showered the sandwich with salty Cotija cheese. It was decadent but very, very good.

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich | Homesick Texan

Now purists of the Kentucky hot brown may scoff at this Tex-Mex rendition of their classic sandwich, but you can never go wrong with green chiles, guacamole and bacon. And no matter who finishes first on Saturday, this Tex-Mex hot brown is already a winner.

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich | Homesick Texan
4.5 from 2 votes

Tex-Mex hot brown sandwich with green chile Mornay sauce

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1 poblano chile
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño chiles
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half or whole milk, plus more if needed
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) shredded white cheddar
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) shredded Muenster
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Pinch of cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 6- inch bolillo rolls (or 2 6-inch French bread rolls or baguettes)
  • 1/2 cup refried beans
  • 1 pound roasted turkey, thickly sliced
  • 6 slices about 6 ounces cooked bacon, chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • Guacamole, for serving
  • Cotija cheese, for serving


  1. To make the green-chile Mornay sauce, roast the poblano and jalapeño chiles under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place the chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes. Take the chiles out of the bag and rub off the skin. Remove seeds and stems and dice.

  2. In a saucepot, on low heat melt the butter. Add the onions and while stirring occasionally cook until onions and jalapeños are softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook until it’s well incorporated and a light-brown paste forms, about 1 minute.

  3. Pour in the half-and-half, turn up the heat to medium high, and while whisking bring the sauce to a boil. As it boils, continue to whisk until it thickens, which can happen anywhere from immediately to a minute. After it thickens, turn the heat back down to low.

  4. A handful at a time, whisk in the white cheddar and the Muenster, waiting until it melts before adding more. Once the cheese is incorporated, stir in the diced green chiles, cilantro, cumin, and cayenne, and add salt to taste. If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it with more half-and-half.

  5. To assemble the sandwiches, turn on the broiler. Cut the bolillo rolls in half, lengthwise, and place each under the broiler until lightly toasted, about 20-30 seconds. Remove from the oven.

  6. On a rimmed oven-safe plate or small skillet, place a toasted roll half. Spread on the roll 2 tablespoons of refried beans. Top the beans with 1/4 of the roasted turkey. Pour over the sandwich some of the green-chile Mornay sauce and sprinkle with some of the cooked bacon and tomatoes. (Any leftover sauce will go dandy with some tortilla chips.)

  7. Place the sandwich under the broiler and cook until the sauce begins to brown and bubble, about 1 to 2 minutes. For serving, top the sandwich with a scoop of guacamole and a shower of Cotija cheese. Repeat for the other sandwiches. (Depending on the size of your oven, you can broil several sandwiches at a time.)

  8. Serve warm.

  1. that sounds fantastic! we are celebrating cinco de derby as well – i'm going to try to do some kind of mexicanized mint julep – maybe with mezcal… but we'll definitely have some good tex-mex too (maybe even some of these sandwiches!).

  2. I had sort of planned on letting this Cinco de Mayo fade but now I'm going to have to cook! Darn you and your Tex-Mex-Tucky fusion cuisine!

    (By the way my Texan and Oklahomian in-laws LOVE your book that I gave my FIL for his birthday. Completely addicted!)

  3. Leela–A Mexicanized mint julep sounds fantastic!

    Mindy–Thank you for sharing the book with your in-laws. I'm so pleased they're enjoying it!

  4. Cinco de Derby! I am totally stealing that 🙂 I live in Lexington, KY and thanks to you I just fixed carnitas for my mother's 75th birthday (with a tres leches cake from Pioneer Woman) and have long wanted to combine Cinco de Mayo and Derby. I don't know if you are aware but there is a HUGE Latin population now in Lexington to the point where my house is just a few miles from a neighborhood fondly referred to as Lexico 🙂

    I am so in love with carnitas (my boyfriend, who is quite the cook, has said more than once that he knows that anything he does will always be forgiven if he just makes carnitas for me) that I almost can't bear the idea of using the meat in the enchiladas posted the other day but I am guessing it is like lobster rolls: it seems like a horrible waste of yummy lobster meat but in the end they are so fabulous you just don't care?

  5. I'm making Hot browns for brunch and your carnitas w/ houston green sauce for dinner. I'm also making flour tortillas (I've only ever had store-bought). I just got back from the grocery store, I wish I had seen this earlier!

    Side note: I love your cookbook. I've never been to Texas and I live in Maryland, but Tex-Mex has become my favorite food. I find that Wegmans carries all the necessary ingredients.

  6. I live in Louisville, Lisa. Trust me, I know what a hot brown is. And from what I've read, it was originally created as an alternative to late night ham and egg suppers.

    I like your idea, but I might suggest that another substitute for the bolillo rolls would be Texas toast.

  7. Barrie–Don't worry, you can still taste carnitas when they are in enchiladas.

    Holly–Thanks! And I've always wanted to visit a Wegmans–I hear it's a fabulous grocery store.

    Janus–Great idea!

  8. That looks delightful! I came up with the idea of a "Hot Red" a few years ago, simply subbing in New Mexico red chile sauce for the Mornay, but I love the idea of a chile-flavored Mornay.

  9. Jen–I love the idea of the hot rod!

  10. Anonymous

    As your Grandma and Grandpa are UK alumna, seeing the new version was interesting. But will still stay with country ham and turkey for now.

    Jean J.

  11. I have been looking for something new to make for cinco de mayo de derby. This is perfect. But I am upping the turkey flavor by smoking it with mesquite. The mesquite is from Texas from my Aunt's farm in Luling. I have wondered what you would add to your recipes if you had access to a bbq smoker.

  12. Anonymous

    As your grandparents are both UK alumna, we will stay with turkey and country ham. Love your blog.

    Jean J.

  13. Brenda–Smoked turkey would be wonderful! And yes, someday I hope to have an outdoor space so I can smoke meat.

    Grandma–You can't go wrong with turkey and country ham!

  14. Janus–Thanks for sharing!

  15. Lisa, in referring to The Hot Brown Sandwich, since it is named after the Brown Hotel, shouldn't the word "brown" always be capitalized in the name of the Sandwich (since it refers to the hotel)?

    And at least to conform to the usage used by The Brown Hotel: "The Legendary Hot Brown Recipe" noted in the link from Janus above.

    Thanks for all the good work you've been doing!

    My very best to you, Lisa! from a chef and writer who has been the chief judge at several unsanctioned chili cookoffs in Richmond. — Christian Gehman

  16. Ellicia

    I think we can comfortably add a little Southwestern zing to the Derby table if for no other reason for the great horse trainer from the King Ranch, Max Hirsch. He had 3 Derby winners, one won the triple crown. So throw some cilantro on top and add a Shiner Bock on the side. It's time to celebrate.

  17. I did a little searching, and I found a page on The Brown Hotel's website that gives a short history of the Hot Brown, as well as their recipe for the Hot Brown. Or as they call it, "The Legendary Hot Brown Recipe":

  18. I'm torn on this one!

    I love good Tex-Mex, but I'm FROM Louisville…my head hurts, AAAARRRRGGGGGGGHHHH

  19. I'm with you on the cheese sauce! 🙂

  20. Lisa. You've just gone too far this time. Just too far. I can't take it. I am going to have Hot Brown dreams all night and all day and the next night. That sounds weird as I type it but you know what I mean.

  21. Makes me hungry for home.

  22. I love this hybrid recipe. Afterall what's a girl to do with two holidays on the same day?

  23. Hah! You CAN never go wrong with green chilis, guacamole and bacon! love it…

  24. Now that is a sandwich!

  25. Novelismo–Thanks!

    Ellicia–It is indeed!

    Schteveo–It's hard to compromise sometimes!

    Idiosycraticeye–You can never go wrong with cheese sauce!

  26. Miss Meat and Potatoes–Yep, I know what you mean!

    Shelley-Just doing my job.


    Rocky Mountain–I agree!


  27. Anonymous

    this looks so good..can't wait to try this one. Just got your cookbook and I can hardly put it down. Lived in Dallas for 7 years but not a native Texan. Got hooked on Tex Mex, big time. Crave the brisket tacos from Mi Cocina and can't wait to try yours.

  28. Anonymous

    I have subscribed but have not gotten a cookbook, which I would love to have. How do I get one?

  29. Lidah–It's sold at most bookstores. Here's how to order.

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