Croque Monsieur Revisited

Croque Monsieur  is the ultimate ham and cheese sandwich. It’s just the kind of indulgent, comfort food you start yearning for when spring is on hiatus somewhere else and you suspect summer may never come.

And yet, for all it’s decadence, it’s a simple sandwich really—bread, ham, cheese, and the kicker—a creamy, dreamy Gruyere cheese sauce. How could it get any better?

Actually, there is a way to make it EVEN BETTER. You can add a counterpoint to the rich, sweet, creamy cheesiness. A bright, herbaceous pesto works perfectly as a palate refresher. Onion Jam lifted with a few drops of lemon juice is also a great adjunct.

But first, the essentials:

Classic Croque Monsieur Essentials

  • Bread Look for a fresh, soft sandwich loaf with character, sliced ½-inch thick (or slice it yourself). I like to use an egg bread here, preferably a brioche loaf. You can of course experiment with other breads, such as a soft whole wheat or rye, but I find that they upstage the other elements.
  • Ham A premium-quality ham, sliced exceedingly thin, is what you need. I love the flavor of Boar’s Head rosemary ham, which is available in the deli case of upscale markets (Zupan’s in Portland, Oregon).
  • Smoke The ham lends this element.
  • Cheese A premium-quality Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced or grated, is essential. My new favorite is Kaltbach cave-aged Swiss Gruyere from City Market in Portland. Crunch Toasted bread does the trick.
  • Toast Again, toasted bread.
  • Creamy A beautifully balanced, well-seasoned, full-flavored Béchamel or Mornay Sauce hits just the right note. I prefer a Mornay Sauce as you just can’t have too much cheese in this decadent sandwich.
  • Integration Spread Mornay Sauce both inside and on top of the sandwich. To my palate, the sandwich melds into a harmonious whole better when sauce is spread inside the slices, as well as on top.
  • Heat It takes about 12-15 minutes in the oven to melt the cheese and sauce, and a quick turn under the broiler to gratinee the top of the sandwich.
  • Fork and Knife Required.

Playing Around

Now that we have the parameters of the classic Croque Monsieur down pat, of course we will embellish the concept in any way that whim, local produce, or the season dictates. I suggest making the classic rendition a time or two before throwing caution to the wind, but at some point, you will want the sandwich and have only some of the key ingredients on hand. That’s when it’s fun to improvise.

Try substituting sourdough bread and thinly sliced smoked chicken or other cured meat. Swap part or all of the cheese for another great melting cheese. (I like a hint of gorgonzola or fresh goat cheese.) Experiment by adding fresh, roasted, or marinated veggies, sautéed mushrooms, and/or pesto. And although it may be blasphemy in some circles, this sandwich is also wonderful served open-faced.

Croque Monsieur with Spicy Sorrel Chive Pesto

If there is a richer, more luscious ham and cheese sandwich, I haven’t tasted it. Croque Monsieur is the ultimate indulgence. Treat yourself.

NOTE With such a simple dish, it is imperative that each of the elements is perfect. If you can, buy the ham and cheese at a good deli counter and ask to sample each before purchasing.

Mornay Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup whole milk
1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) finely grated Parmesan
2 ounces (about ½ cup) premium Gruyere
fine sea salt, to taste

four, ½-inch thick slices of soft white bread

Classic Fillings
6-8 thin slices Boar’s Head rosemary ham (about 4 ounces)
4 ounces grated Gruyere cheese

Additional Fillings (one or more of the following)
¼ cup Spicy Sorrel Chive Pesto (or other Pesto)
¼ cup Onion Jam
¼ cup Tomato Jam
Dijon mustard
sliced tomato

½ cup shredded Gruyere cheese

  1. To make the Mornay Sauce, in a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour and mustard. Cook and whisk, without browning, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and slowly whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Season to taste with salt.
  2. Toast the bread lightly and arrange on an edged baking sheet.
  3. Spread Mornay Sauce generously on two of the slices and add a layer of ham and cheese. If desired, spread pesto on the remaining two slices, and then top with Mornay Sauce.
  4. Lay the pesto-topped slices, pesto side down, on top of the ham and cheese-topped slices. Spread Mornay sauce generously on top of each sandwich stack. Top with grated cheese.
  5. Bake at 450° for 12-15 minutes, until cheese inside each sandwich melts and topping is beginning to bubble. Broil for a minute or two to brown the topping lightly.
  6. Serve hot from the oven on a plate with a knife and folk.

Makes 2 sandwiches.


Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

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