By Catherine Rush Thompson
With Valentine’s Day approaching, consider celebrating with romantic dishes guaranteed to please. My first suggestion: croque monsieur. This hot sandwich is a favorite across the world, including Le Molière Restaurant in romantic Paris where one customer stated: “We were looking for somewhere to have breakfast, and wanted a croque monsieur. Since I absolutely love Rue de Buci, we came upon Le Molière. Hands down these were the best ones we had on our trip, thanks to the bread they use.” If you cannot manage a trip to France, why not bring the taste of France home? The recipe for croque monsieur is quite simple, so it is worth trying to create this delicious and satisfying dish for those you love.
Croque monsieur is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that is “one of the true staples of simple French cuisine.” It has gained such popularity that it is served around the world, featuring variations that range from the traditional version to vegetarian versions. My second suggestion is croque madame, a version of croque monsieur served with a poached or lightly fried egg on top. In parts of Normandy, it may be referred to as croque-à-cheval.
There are several stories about the origin of croque monsieur. One suggests that croque monsieur was created when French workers left their lunch pails too close to a radiator, resulting in toasted bread with melted cheese and baked ham sandwiches. Another version asserts that the sandwich was created by a chef at a Parisian brasserie on the Boulevard des Capucines. When the restaurant ran out of baguettes, the chef substituted a loaf of pain de mie (a thin, soft crusted bread) and created the classic hot ham and cheese sandwich. The sandwich first appeared on a Parisian café menu in 1910 and was referenced in Marcel Proust’s 1918 novel, In Search of Lost Time (Volume 2).
According to Bob Adam’s blog Oui Always Have Paris, “The name [of croque monsieur] is derived from the crispy bread of the sandwich (from the French verb croquer, which means “to bite”) and from a casual comment from the brasserie’s chef about the origins of the ham in the sandwich. When asked by a customer about the meat, the chef reportedly gestured toward another customer—likely the neighborhood butcher—and replied ‘C’est la viande de monsieur’ (‘It’s the meat of that man).’ And voila–le croque monsieur.”
Julia Child reported that croque monsieur was one of her favorites and, once you try it, you will understand why. Here is one of her simple recipes:
CROQUE MONSIEUR (makes 2 sandwiches)
4 slices good-quality artisan bread
4 oz. gruyère cheese
4 oz. deli ham
a little butter
Dijon mustard optional – my personal touch
Bechamel sauce *see Julia Child's recipe below
1. Preheat a large skillet or grill pan on the stove over medium heat.
2. Make sandwiches by laying down a layer of cheese to taste, then ham to taste on one slice, spread a little Dijon mustard on the other; close up to make the sandwich, then butter both outside surfaces well. Fry in the pre-heated pan until the bread is nicely toasted and golden around the edges on both sides.
3. It’s a nice touch to trim off the crusts and cut in half before plating. This is traditionally served with pommes frites and a light salad with vinaigrette on the side, but the sandwich should be lightly covered with a delicious Bechamel Sauce.
4. Place on a grill tray or place in the oven for 5 minutes, or until bechamel is nice and brown, and bubbling.
Bechamel Sauce (makes 2 cups - medium-thick consistency)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups hot milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, blend in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until butter and flour foam together for 2 minutes without turning more than a buttery yellow color.
2. Remove from heat, and when bubbling stops, vigorously whisk in all the hot milk at once. Bring to the boil, whisking. Simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Season to taste.
NOTE: If you top this sandwich with a fried egg, it becomes a CROQUE MADAME.
While this is not the original recipe for croque monsieur developed in the early 1900’s, it will provide a delicious sandwich.
For those who like to see a chef explain and demonstrate various versions of croque monsieur, croque madame, bechamel sauce or pain de mie, the following are excellent videos providing history, helpful tips, and variations on how different chefs prepare their mouth-watering croque monsieur:
FINDING CROQUE MONSIEUR IN LOCAL RESTAURANTS
And if you want to go out to eat, consider one of your local French restaurants to see if they offer it on their take-out menu. Aixois offers croque monsieur and you can order it for carry-out or curbside pickup. Check out its menu at: https://aixois.com/to-go/. As one reviewer reported on Yelp, “Aixois gets five stars for one reason: they have the best croque monsieur in the world. OK, I haven’t traveled everywhere to confirm, but I’ve visited France a few times and have not found its equal…And I hear the other food is good, too. I just never get anything other than croque monsieur.” It’s always nice to have a backup if your recipe doesn’t turn out as planned. Just call the restaurant to get takeout
Adams, Bob. Tracing the History of the Croque Monsieur Sandwich Paris Blog “Oui Always Have Paris". 2015-08-11. http://ouialwayshaveparis.com/2015/08/11/croquemonsieur/
Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home: Episode 104 Our Favorite Sandwiches. http://www.alacartetv.com/html/jnj/episode.htm
Julia Child’s Croque Monsieur Recipe: http://blog.webicurean.com/2012/08/04/croque-monsieur-cookforjulia-sundaysupper/. Wordpress Recipe Plugin by EasyRecipe. Read more: http://blog.webicurean.com/2012/08/04/croque-monsieur-cookforjulia-sundaysupper/#ixzz6kmOtxelr
Pain de mie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_de_mie
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