No doubt you’ve heard of the Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame - a grilled ham and cheese sandwich popularized in Paris over 100 years ago. There are many different ways to prepare it, ranging from a simple grilled cheese and ham to a more Monte-Cristo-like dipped sandwich.
I had a Croque Monsieur at Lutece in Paris recently - a fairly traditional version, and it was wonderful. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass of Champagne, watching Paris go by.)
The main difference between a Madame and Monsieur is that the Madame has a poached or fried egg on top.
This is an easy breakfast, lunch or dinner to make for four, so give it a try if you’ve never had one. These are served in Paris with a simple side salad - likely to cut the richness of the sandwich. Some spicy mustard also goes well with it (as does a nice dry Champagne).
6 ounces unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
8 slices thick sourdough bread
8 to 12 slices good quality ham (about 3/4 pound)
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated, divided*
Preheat the broiler.
Make the Béchamel sauce: In a small saucepan, melt 1 ounce butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until you smell the flour and butter cooking, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow it to brown.
Add the milk and bay leaf and nutmeg and cook, stirring until the mixture thickens like a soup, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf and stir in the Parmesan. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Arrange 4 slices of the bread on a flat surface. Top each with 2 to 3 slices of ham. *In Paris, they used Emmentaler Swiss cheese, but I prefer Gruyere. Use what you like best. Mix together half of the Gruyere cheese and the Béchamel sauce. Taste for seasoning.
Spread a little of the sauce on top of the ham and top each with another slice of bread.
Heat a large cast iron skillet and, when hot, add half of the remaining butter. Add 2 of the sandwiches and brown on one side, 2 minutes. Turn on the other side and brown 2 more minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining butter and sandwiches. Spread the remaining Béchamel on top of the sandwiches and top with the other half of the Gruyere cheese.
**Typically, the eggs on top are fried. I personally prefer the delicateness of a poached egg. If you poach them, ignore the below:
Wipe any crumbs from the cast iron skillet and spray with nonstick spray. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet, leaving a little room between each. (Alternatively, fry 2 at a time).
While the eggs are frying, put a little Béchamel and cheese on top of the sandwich.
Place the sandwiches under the broiler and broil until the top becomes golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Season the eggs with salt and top each sandwich with an egg. Serve immediately.
The picture at right is the Croque Monsieur I was served at Lutece, and my Croque Madame on top. Their cheese was broiled a little harder. If you are one that likes “crispier” cheese, leave it under the broiler a bit longer.