Croque Monsieur

acookscanvas_croquemonsieur1_copyright2012-2013 copy copyA croque-monsieur (or a Mister Crunchy!) is a delicious french baked ham and Gruyère sandwich topped with more Gruyère and broiled to crispy, bubbly perfection. I remember the first time I had one, it was three years ago in Paris. After reading many recipes on how to make them and what they’re suppose to look like, I was in search for an authentic example for our first lunch. We were staying in the 6th arrondissement, near the Notre Dame.  Down the street from us, right next to the Seine was a restaurant that looked promising and they had croque monsieur on the menu. Excited to finally try it, I waited anxiously while enjoying a glass of red table wine.  When our meal came to us, it wasn’t what I was expecting, it wasn’t quite right. I’ve seen croque-monsieurs made with slices of oval-shaped hand made peasant bread. This one looked as though they took two pieces of Wonder bread, slapped them together and covered with shredded cheese. A little fast foodish per se. A little disappointing but it tasted good.  Could it be that sitting on a Paris sidewalk, people watching while enjoying French food with a view of the Notre Dame have anything to do with it?  I’m guessing if I was just served the worst microwaved sandwich, I could still enjoy it with the Parisian ambiance surrounding us.
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We later headed towards the 2nd arrondissement and after much walking and lots of sight-seeing, we were hungry! We saw a restaurant that looked promising. Again, croque monsieur was on the menu and we ordered two with a side salad and a carafe of red wine. Our waiter was very nice and brought us a little bowl with bright red, extremely thin shavings of something. We couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was delicious.  A little bit sweet, nutty, and salty, but unlike anything we’d ever tasted. We finally asked the waiter and he told us that they were thinly shaved beets that he had just deep fried for us. Delicious! A few minutes later our croque monsieurs arrived, and these looked like proper croques, like the ones I’d seen in my cookbooks.  They were very tasty indeed and perfect for a late lunch.

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Larousse describes a Croque Monsieur as a hot sandwich made with two slices of buttered bread, crusts removed, filled with thin slices of Gruyère cheese and a thick slice of lean ham. The Croque Monsieur is lightly browned on both sides, either in a buttered skillet or under the broiler. The top is then covered with a Mornay sauce (Béchamel with gruyère or any other swiss added) and broiled until lightly browned. After doing some reading, I’ve learned that there are several possible variations on the basic croque monsieur recipe. They can include chicken breast, cod filet, gouda cheese, tomatoes, and even pineapple, but I think I’ll stick to the classic. If the croque monsieur is served with an egg on top, it is then called a croque-madame. This dish is still popular in cafes and snack bars and are even better paired with a nice crisp salad and a glass of red wine.

Croque Monsieur
This recipe makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients
for the sandwiches:
1 loaf of peasant bread, sliced (sourdough is perfect)
14 ounces of  ham, slices
10 ounces of gruyère, sliced thinly
for the Mornay sauce:
2 1/2 cups of milk
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of plain flour
4 ounces of emmenthaler, grated finely
1 bay leaf
freshly ground pepper
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350°.Warm the milk with the bay leaf in a saute pan. Do not bring it to a boil.  When the milk is warm, let it stand for 15 minutes so the flavor of the bay leaf steeps with the milk. Pour the milk in a bowl and set aside. Rinse out the pan. Return to the heat and melt the butter over low heat. When butter has melted, add the flour and stir quickly until the flour and butter become a ball and cook for a minute. This is the starter to your roux. Remove the pan off the stove and slowly pour in the milk and whisk quickly. You must make sure the milk is combined with the roux. Return your roux to the heat, stirring constantly. If you don’t the mixture could burn or stick. Keep mixing until the roux thickens and becomes smooth and shiny. Add the finely grated cheese. Stir til melted then set aside.

Lightly butter the outside of your bread. Place your buttered bread on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Assemble your sandwiches with slices of the bread, ham and cheese. Add a little freshly ground pepper on top. Spoon your Mornay sauce over the sandwiches and place them in the oven. Cook until the Mornay is bubbling and your cheese is melted.

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