Last week I taught you how to make delicious meatballs, which to me, are one of my top comfort foods. Another one of my favorite comfort foods is a grilled cheese sandwich. Who can resist the melting cheese and toasted bread? A grilled cheese is a sandwich that hugs you. So this week I will teach you how to make a Croque Monsieur, which is a grilled cheese with a French spin.
Let’s get cooking!
The literal translation of Croque Monsieur is crunch mister. It was invented in a Paris bistro in 1901 and is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that is topped with béchamel and is then broiled. It is served in Paris to this day and also at many American restaurants. Well, I am going to take a few liberties with the traditional version and teach you my Croque Monsieur. I have eliminated the béchamel in my version because I like to pick up a sandwich. The béchamel makes it more of a knife and fork type of dish.
Let’s get cooking!
This recipe will make two sandwiches. Now, traditionally this sandwich calls for a French ham (Jambon) and either Gruyere or Emmental cheese. French ham is low in salt and similar to an American boiled ham. Gruyere and Emmental both taste like strong Swiss cheese. You can use boiled ham in this recipe, but I prefer the chew and flavor of a smoked ham. As for the cheese, I like an American aged Swiss cheese, it has a nutty and buttery flavor that works well with the ham. The French use a country white bread for this sandwich, I like a brioche because it adds such a nice richness.
For this recipe you will need:
- 2 medium bowls
- large non-stick sauté pan
- spatula, whisk
- spray oil
- ½ pound thinly sliced ham
- ½ pound thinly sliced aged Swiss
- 4 thick slices (3/4 inch thick) brioche
- ½ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon minced shallot
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 1/8 pound room temperature unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- pinch of crushed red pepper
- salt and pepper
The first step is to whisk together the mustard, shallot, mayonnaise, basil and lemon juice in a bowl. After mixing, salt and pepper to taste, then set aside. Next, in another bowl combine the room temperature butter, Parmesan and crushed red pepper and set aside. You are essentially making a compound butter. The beauty of this butter is the grated Parmesan. When cooked, it will mix with that butter and create a fabulous crust.
Now you are going to build the sandwiches, so have your mustard mix, your butter mix, ham, cheese and bread all within your reach. Lay out all four slices of the bread and generously slather the mustard mixture on every slice. On two slices of the bread, alternate cheese, ham, cheese, ham, etc. until all is used. You want to start and end with cheese so you have gooey melted cheese on both sides of the sandwich. Okay, now top the ham and cheese side with the other piece of bread, mustard side against the cheese.
Next, butter both sides of the sandwich using your butter mixture. Place the large non-stick sauté pan, sprayed with oil, over medium heat. Put both sandwiches into pan and press down with the spatula, this helps develop that crust. Cook about four minutes on each side. When the sandwich is golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Serve with any leftover mustard sauce, a fresh green salad and a crisp Chardonnay. Trust me; there is nothing like biting into that buttery crisp bread, getting a hit of spice from the mustard and then the melting lushness of the aged Swiss.
Once you have mastered this Croque Monsieur, you can easily turn it into a Monte Cristo. A Monte Cristo is the American version of a Croque Monsieur and is dipped in an egg mixture before pan frying. So, follow the recipe above, omitting the butter mixture and replacing it with the following egg mixture:
In a medium bowl combine:
Beat together the eggs and milk, then salt and pepper to taste. Dip both sides of your assembled sandwiches into the egg mixture. Cook the same way you did the Croque Monsieur. I like to serve this with a little warm strawberry jam for dipping.
There you have it, two comforting versions of grilled cheese sandwiches. Have some fun with these, add in thinly sliced tomato, make them with roast beef instead of ham or use smoked Gouda instead of an aged Swiss.
As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you'll never forget.
Chef Flowers has over 25 years of fine cuisine experience. The former Executive Chef at Top of The Market, San Diego, also owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.
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- 3 large eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- salt and pepper