During November, I became slightly addicted to a bit of French comfort food, the Croque Monsieur.
It wasn’t great for my waistline, but it certainly helped me get through my daily intensive French class. I justified eating a couple a week (okay, sometimes four), by telling myself that I needed to speak French with the real French, in the real world (e.g. my boulanger), on the way home from my course. You know, to reinforce the daily lessons.
When made right, this creamy and delicious French sandwich is the answer to a really good and buttery greasy-spoon-American-diner grilled cheese sandwich, with the brilliant addition of béchamel sauce.”
Yes, you heard me right, béchamel sauce.
Julia Child may have said, “if you are afraid of butter, use cream”, but I would say, “if you are afraid of anything (par exemple, un cours de français), add béchamel sauce.
The story surrounding the Croque Monsieur (literally, crunchy/crispy mister) is that a couple of French laborers “invented” it when they accidently left their lunch pails filled with ham and Gruyère sandwiches by a hot radiator in the morning, and by lunchtime found themselves enjoying warm and gooey grilled sandwiches. Who knows if this is true, but by the early 1900s, the Croque Monsieur was a standard on every French café menu, and the rest, as they say is history.
So, what is a Croque Madame? It is a Croque Monsieur with an egg on top, because the ladies, of course, can always do better than the gents.
And, just incase neither the Croque Monsieur nor Croque Madame is decadent enough for you, you could always try the croissant au jambon (with béchamel sauce, bien sûr).
Still need a little bit more? Here are some delectable variations on the original:
- Croque Auvergnat: substitute blue cheese for Gruyère cheese
- Croque Campagnard: substitute hardier bread, country ham, and add a mix of three cheese: Comté, cheddar and Parmesan
- Croque Norvégien: substitute smoked salmon for the ham
- Croque Provençal: add tomatoes
- Croque Savoyard/Croque Tartiflette: substitute Reblochon cheese for the Gruyère cheese and add thinly sliced fried potatoes.
If you don’t have a French café nearby, try this recipe from www.recipes4us.co.uk at home:
Croque Monsieur (Serves 4)
8 slices sandwich bread
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
8 thin slices of Ham
176g/6oz Gruyère cheese, grated
2 tbsp Butter, softened
120ml/4fl.oz. COLD Bechamel sauce
- Preheat the grill to hot. Spread 4 slices of bread with the mustard then top each with a slice of ham
- Reserve 2 tablespoons of the cheese and divide the remaining cheese between the ham topped slices of bread, sprinkling it evenly over the ham.
- Place the 4 remaining sliced of ham on the cheese and top with the remaining 4 slices of bread to make a sandwich.
- Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet, butter the top slices with the butter then grill for 4- 5 minutes until well browned and crisp.
- Turn them over, and grill for a further 3-4 minutes until well toasted.
- Remove from the grill, turn them over again then spread the top of each with the cold béchamel sauce, sprinkle with the reserved cheese, place back under the very hot grill and cook until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.
croissant au jambon: croissant with ham
par exemple, un cours de français: for example, a French course