“S’il vous plait, je voudrais un croque-monsieur.” I love saying that when I’m sitting in a cute little chair at a charming café on a street-corner in France. It means “If you please, I would like a croque-monsieur.”
Iconic French Sandwich
Croque-monsieur is an iconic French sandwich. So why get excited about it? Well, imagine crisply toasted bread, a paper thin slice of the best ham you can imagine, enough butter to sink the Queen Mary, and a silken béchamel sauce topped by melted Gruyère. Is it coming clear?
The quality of an establishment is told by its croque-monsieur. If it is as described above, so crisp it makes a sound when you cut into it, so rich that you close your eyes and imagine yourself in butter-land, the salt and nutmeg so perfectly balanced you float in its flavor, then you know you’ve found a treasure. The thing is, a fabulous croque-monsieur hits the spot – the spot of famish, being out on the town, stopping for a moment between errands to rest, relax, enjoy. So, it’s always exciting to try one. Sometimes, a croque-monsieur doesn’t meet expectation (like everything in life, you might say). But when it does, oh my.
Make Your Own
What’s as fun, exciting, satisfying as sitting at a café table indulging in a croque is to make your own. Truly. I know, you miss the French sights and sounds around you, but what you’re after is flavor and texture, and that is why the recipe that follows is made for you. With it, you’ll make the best croque-monsieur in the Universe. Guaranteed!
The name “croque-monsieur” means “bite sir,” which is a little weird. And it does have a reference to cannibalism. As the story goes, Michel Lunarc, owner of the Bel Âge, a café near the Opera in Paris, ran out of baguette one evening in 1910. Fast on his feet, he substituted pain de mie, white bread, for his ham sandwich, topping it with sauce bechamel and cheese, and putting it in a hot oven. It was an instant hit, and it caused his competitors to refer to him as someone who was “cannibalizing” all the business in the nieghborhood, thus the name. It can be imagined that Mr. Lunarc didn’t care what people called his sandwiches, they were flying out of the kitchen so quickly. He even went a step further by topping one with a fried egg, which loosely resembled the wide-brimmed hats ladies wore at the time, and calling it a “croque madame”.
You might want to call it simply the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had, though French names always have more cachet. But by whatever name, this is the very best. Bon Appétit!
MINIATURE CROQUE MONSIEUR - PETITS CROQUES MONSIEURS
For the Béchamel:
- 1 cup;250ml whole milk
- 1 bay leaf from the Laurus nobilis
- 3 tablespoons;65g unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Fine sea salt
For the Croque Monsieur:
- 3 tablespoons;45g unsalted butter very soft at
- 20 small thin slices of best-quality sandwich bread (about 4 –inches square)
- 4 ounces; 120g best-quality ham, thinly sliced,
- 2 ounces;60g Gruyère grated
- To make the béchamel, pour the milk into a medium-size saucepan. Add the bay leaf and set the pan over medium heat. Scald the milk, remove it from the heat and keep it warm.
- Melt the butter in another medium-size saucepan over medium heat until completely melted. Whisk in the flour and let the mixture foam and cook, whisking occasionally, for at least 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk with the bay leaf and cook, whisking regularly, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. If the sauce isn’t thickening, increase the heat slightly, and whisk occasionally.
- Season the béchamel to taste, and remove from the heat. The sauce is ready to use immediately.
- Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
- Butter each slice of bread. Cut out 2-inch rounds from each slice.
- Cut out 20 rounds of ham. Place a piece of ham on 10 of the buttered rounds of bread. Top with another piece of bread, butter-side up. Place the sandwiches in the oven and bake until they are golden at the edges, about 7 minutes.
- Remove the sandwiches from the oven and place about 1 tablespoon béchamel atop each sandwich, mounding it on top but making sure it evenly covers the top of the sandwich. Top with cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and transfer the sandwiches to a serving platter. Let them sit for about 5 minutes before serving, as they are blistering hot!