Welcome to Couleur Nature’s Tasty Tuesday, a weekly feature on a French recipe—with tantalizing pictures to accompany!
I admit, I’ve never really liked ham and cheese sandwiches.
But I guess I just never had the right kind.
That is, until now.
Croque Monsieurs, or “Crunchy Misters”, are standard fare in Parisian cafes (McDonald’s being no exception), yet are simple enough to make at home. And for such a simple sandwich, the result is absolutely delicious. There are so many different textures and tastes all harmonizing to create what I believe, dare I say, is the perfect ham and cheese sandwich.
It’s cute too, how these are named as his and her sandwiches. Top one off with a fried egg and you now have a croque madame!
The French version of the classic ham and cheese toastie has a humble history: the creation myth suggests that a group of workmen left their lunches next to a radiator all morning, and, come lunchtime, were rather delighted with the result.
What I believe sets this apart from other ham and cheese sandwiches is the Béchamel sauce topping, a distinctly French addition. (Julia Child opted to leave it out in her recipe, but I don’t think this wouldn’t be a croque monsieur without it.)
There are so many ways to add variety to the croque monsieur, whether you add in some tomatoes for Provencal style, or some chiles for a mild kick. But, a classic is a classic, and it doesn’t get any better than the original.
Makes 2 Sandwiches
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 3/4 cup milk, heated
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the Sandwiches:
- 4 thick slices Italian or French loaf bread, crusts removed
- 3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 3/4 cups grated)
- 6 oz. thinly sliced ham (about 6 slices)
- Dijon mustard
- 2 fried eggs (optional)
*The best cheese for croque monsieurs is Franche-Comté Gruyère, but if you can’t come across any, Emmental is an appropriate substitute.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- For the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add in the flour and stir constantly until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the milk, stirring constantly, cooking until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir in 1/8 cup of the Gruyère and set aside.
- Lay out bread slices on baking sheets and brush them with softened butter, toasting in the oven for a few minutes on each side.
- Lightly brush half the slices with mustard. Evenly divide the ham between the two slices and top with 1/4 cup of cheese. Cover with other toasted bread. Generously spread the bechamel sauce over each of the sandwiches and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
- Bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for about 3 minutes, or until cheese topping is bubbling and lightly browned. Remove from oven and set sandwiches on a plate. For croque madames, top sandwiches with a fried egg, sunny side up. Enjoy!
Do you like your croques plain, or with a bit of fun? I’m looking forward to trying one with some baby bella mushrooms and smoky bacon! What other variations can you dream up?