One of the simplest French dishes is also among the most surefire crowd-pleasers -- the croque monsieur. At a holiday dinner last year a room erupted into moans of pleasure when these were served. All for a ham and cheese sandwich!
The name of this crisp and creamy treat derives from the French verb "croquer," which means "to crunch," and the word "monsieur," for "mister." Together they make "Mr. Crunch," which doesn't sound nearly as appetizing as en Francais, in which seems an elegant name worthy of its flavor and Proustian roots. (The meal first popped up in literature in Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time.")
Learn more about "Mr. Crunch" after the jump.
Quite simply, a properly made croque monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, usually using Gruyere or Emmental. And any good one is typically topped with some sort of rich and creamy goodness, whether it's simply some extra melted cheese, a Béchamel sauce or a Mornay. Chef Tim Kirker of Chicago's Bistrot Zinc, says: "It definitely has to have sauce or at least some kind of cheese on top ... [otherwise] it's just a ham and cheese sandwich."
How would he make the perfect croque? "It's got to have a decent ham and cheese -- some kind of Gruyere or Swiss that has a little fun to it ... gooeyness is important. You shouldn't be able to pick it up and eat it. You need a knife and fork for a good croque." He should know. The Chicago Sun-Times called his version of the sammie, which uses a custard of Gruyere, egg and cream on top, "first-rate."
But don't get discouraged by this talk of strange sauces. This is simply a riff on grilled ham and cheese: Butter the outside of two slices of bread, load the inside with quality ham and cheese and grill until melted and crunchy. Then just pour on some sauce and broil until sufficiently bubbly.
As for that sauce -- Béchamel is not a tough sauce to tackle. Make a quick roux with butter and flour, add some milk, a pinch of nutmeg and a bay leaf, and whisk until thickened. Wanna make it a Mornay? Simply use a 2:1 ratio of milk to shredded cheese added. This recipe at Epicurious will help you out.
Once you tackle the classic croque, you can move on to one of the dishes' many twists, which include:
Croque Madame - Your regular croque with a fried egg plopped on top.
Croque Provencal - Your regular croque with some tasty tomatoes slipped inside.
Croque Tartiflette - Add potatoes to the mix, and use Reblochon cheese.
Croque Hawaii - Your regular croque amped up with sliced pineapple.
Croque Norvegien - Sub smoked salmon for the ham.
Croque Auvergnat - Use bleu d'Auvergne cheese.
Croque Bolognese - Use Bolognese sauce.
Filed Under: Ingredients
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