Croque-Monsieur, -Madame

April 1, 2009

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
~G. K. Chesterton

A supreme bar food (especially for cheesaholics), a croque-monsieur is simply a grilled ham and cheese sandwich taken to the next level. Gruyère, named after the Swiss village of Gruyères (and made in the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Jura, and Berne), is a creamy, unpasteurized, semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk. The cheese is a darker yellow than traditional Emmental but the texture, scent and flavor is more dense and compact. Slightly grainy, gruyère displays an intense complexity of flavors — at first fruity, then later becoming more assertive, earthy and nutty.

3 T unsalted butter
1/4 C all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, heated
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 T unsalted butter, melted
8 slices high quality loaf bread, sliced 1/2″ thick
12 oz sliced fine ham
10 oz gruyère cheese, coarsely grated.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Create a béchamel sauce. In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat and whisk in the flour until blended but no more than light yellow in hue. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. Place bread slices in a single layer and spread each one evenly to the edges with béchamel. Divide ham among four of the slices. Top all eight slices with equal amounts of cheese, spreading it evenly to within 1/4″ of the edges.

Place four bread slices with béchamel and cheese, cheese side up, on top of slices layered with ham. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until grated cheese topping is melted and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pourboire: Much like clownfish, the male version can be changed to become a female. A croque-monsieur topped with a fried or poached egg is known as a croque-madame, or in parts of Normandy a croque-cheval. This version is my preference, not only because females are the superior sex…but, anything topped with an egg just goes up a rung. I mean, should it not be the ladies first? Should not the hierarchy be reversed? Face it guys, a croque-monsiuer is an inferior croque-madame missing the egg. A croque-provençal invites a sliced (seasonal, hopefully heirloom) fresh tomato to the pique-nique.

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