By Joe Stumpe
Each day, Americans eat almost as many sandwiches as there are people in the country. You can look it up.
Impressive as that consumption is, I’m guessing it might go up if more people were familiar with the croque-monsieur, a sort of supercharged ham-and-cheese sandwich from France.
The name translates as “Mister Crunch,” since the bread used in the sandwich gets toasted in the oven during preparation. But what really makes the croque-monsieur is the rich béchamel sauce slathered onto that bread, which bakes up all brown and bubbly and irresistible. You’ll probably want to eat your croque-monsieur with a knife and fork, but don’t hold that against it.
This sandwich can be made to the step of baking up to a day in advance, and it’s plenty elegant for casual entertaining served alongside a salad or cup of soup. As delicious as it is, a version topped with a fried or poached egg —called croque-madame for its resemblance to a woman’s hat — is even better.
Here’s a recipe closely adapted from Bon Appetit magazine. The only big changes I make are substituting a sweet-spicy mustard for the whole grain mustard and spreading it directly on the bread, instead of making it part of the sauce.
- 8 slices (½-inch thick) country-style bread
- 6 oz. ham, preferably Paris ham (about 8 slices)
- 3 oz. Gruyère, grated (about 1½ cups)
- 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, parsley or other fresh herbs
- Bechamel sauce:
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups whole milk, warm
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard (see note above)
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt
To make béchamel sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour and cook for about a minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cook several minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in mustard, nutmeg and salt to taste.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread béchamel sauce on bread, extending all the way to the edges. Place four slices, béchamel side up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top with ham and half of cheese. Top with remaining slices of bread, béchamel side up, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese and herbs. Bake about 10-15 minutes or until brown and bubbly.
Variations: substitute cooked chicken, salmon, sausage or potatoes for the ham, add a slice of tomato or grilled pineapple, or use a different cheese such as Gouda or bleu.