Such a fancy name for a such a simple sandwich. In short, this is a dressed up grilled cheese. How dressed up, you ask? Well, more dressed up than church on Sunday. More dressed up than the night you anticipate being proposed to over a candle-lit dinner. We’re talking dressed up for Senior prom where you have been nominated for Prom Queen, and your boyfriend (the quarterback) is up for King. This is a special sandwich.
When I went to France in high school I was less inclined to embark on culinary adventures. We dined at The Hark Rock Cafe, and I even ate lunch at McDonalds…more than once. In Paris! Crazy. I know. Let’s blame it on me being a naive teenager. Let’s also blame that purchase of raspberry cigarettes on naivety. Moving on…
One day for lunch, famished from a morning visit to the Louvre, some friends and I stopped at the first cafe we saw. Using some of my French food vocabulary I saw “croque-monsieur” on the menu and knew that a French grilled cheese with ham was something I could definitely enjoy. A French version of fast food. Warm, grilled bread, melted cheese and sweet & salty ham. You cannot go wrong with this choice.
I love researching food, its origins and its history. I find it fascinating. In French, croque = crunch, monsieur = mister, madame = misses. The croque-monsieur’s first recorded appearance on a Parisian café menu was in 1910. Its earliest published use has been traced back to volume two of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu) (1918.) The difference between the Monsieur and the Madame is this…a fried egg is placed atop the madame, while the monsieur is topped with a simple béchamel sauce. The Madame is thought to be named because the egg, with its yolk and surrounding white, looks like a woman’s hat.
The staples of the sandwich are a hearty white french bread, gruyere cheese and ham. Some dijon mustard is spread onto the bread slices, topped with some cheese and ham, then the other bread slice. The sandwich is then grilled in a skillet on both sides. Spread a good amount of decadent béchamel sauce on each sandwich, then place them under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the tops. You can quit here for a croque monsieur, or place a fried egg on top for a croque madame. We made both variations, and I really like the fried egg. I wasn’t sure I would, but it was delicious, and also very cute.
Croque Madame (courtesy of Epicurious.com)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 1/2 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (1 1/3 cups)
- 8 slices firm white sandwich bread
- 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 pound thinly sliced cooked ham (preferably Black Forest)
- 4 large eggs
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes.
- Whisk in milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/3 cup cheese until cheese is melted.
- Remove from heat and cover surface directly with a sheet of wax paper.
- Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons sauce evenly over each of 4 slices of bread, then sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese (1/4 cup per slice). Spread mustard evenly on remaining 4 bread slices and top with ham, dividing it evenly, then invert onto cheese-topped bread to form sandwiches.
- Lightly oil a 15- by 10-inch shallow baking pan.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately low heat, then cook sandwiches, turning over once, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes total. Remove from heat and transfer sandwiches to baking pan, then wipe out skillet with paper towels.
- Preheat broiler.
- Top each sandwich with 1/3 cup sauce, spreading evenly. Broil sandwiches 4 to 5 inches from heat until sauce is bubbling and golden in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off broiler and transfer pan to lower third of oven to keep sandwiches warm.
- Heat remaining tablespoon butter in nonstick skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then crack eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Fry eggs, covered, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Top each sandwich with a fried egg and serve immediately.