While watching the movie "It's Complicated" on cable recently I found myself salivating at Meryl Streep's character's chocolate croissants, roasted chicken dinner, and something I'd never heard of before: Croques Monsieur. In the movie she serves it to Steve Martin's character on a business-ish date while "hilarity ensues" from Alec Baldwin's character as he window peeps on them. The dish, that they ate with knife and fork, appeared to have been baked and looked creamy and cheesy melty. She makes reference to having learned to make this dish while in France studying pastry and the reference is repeated by Alec's character talking about how much he misses this dish and how special it was to him.
I thought to myself "Self, you need to investigate, create, and blog this wonderful cheesy thing they're spreading Dijon mustard on and eating with a knife and fork." As myself often listens to me, I did, and I found that, like my polenta adventure, I was pretty familiar with the dish and remembered how much I liked it: Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwich. That's the basic form and I've included that stripped down bare bones version as Julia Child made it. There are gussied up versions that include baking in the oven rather than grilling in a pan, and added vegetables, eggs, and sauces, but the basic idea of the Croque Monsieur, or "Crispy Mister" is a Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich that was originally served in France in casual bistros around 1910 and has survived ever since. Why? Because it's yummy! The key difference between a Croque and it's American cousin would be quality of ingredients. It eschews Wonder Bread for a nice homemade loaf, Kraft American Slices for gruyere or Havarti or Swiss, and a nice ham slice.
Crispy, hot, and cheesy, it's yummy comfort food with an exotic name.
Recipe by Julia Child as printed in the Boston Globe, Aug 2004
- 2 thin ( 1/4-inch) slices fresh white sandwich bread of best homemade-type quality
- 2 to 3 tablespoons clarified butter (melt and skim butter, then pour the clear liquid off the milk residue; have a small saucepan of it for several sandwiches)
- 2 thin ( 1/8-inch) slices mozzarella cheese or rather soft Swiss
- 1 thin ( 1/8-inch) slice cooked ham, cut in the same dimensions as the bread
1. On your work surface, lay one slice of bread, brush it with butter, cover with a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, and another slice of cheese. Brush one side of the second slice of bread with butter and lay it, buttered side down, to top the sandwich. Press the sandwich together firmly, leaning on it with the palm of your hand. Trim off the crusts and press down again on the sandwich.
2. In a frying pan, add 1/8 inch of the butter, heat it to bubbling, and brown the sandwiches rather slowly, 2 to 3 minutes on each side, so the cheese will melt. Add more butter as needed. For appetizers, cut the sandwich into quarters or eighths.
Note: If done ahead, arrange on a baking sheet and set aside, covered with plastic wrap. Uncover and heat in a 375-degree oven for 5 minutes or so before serving.
Adapted from "From Julia's Kitchen"
Served with a fried egg on top, it is called a Croques Madame, "Crispy Mrs." which reminds me of a less rich Eggs Benedict. More elegantly, in knife and fork country for sure, it is also at times served with the sandwich covered in Bechamel Sauce (white sauce with nutmeg) and then topped with the egg. A classic bechamel sauce from Mario Batali can be found at Food Network here: Classic Bechamel Sauce Or another version would be served with a Classic Mornay Sauce (Bechamel with cheese), a recipe from Emeril can be found here: Classic Mornay Sauce