Critic Issue 23 - Food Column
As a continuation of last week’s French theme and Meryl-Streep-movie mania, I went hunting for this recipe after watching ‘It’s Complicated’. The Croque Monsieur, which loosely translates as ‘crispy’ or ‘crunchy’ mister, is basically a fancy toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Not being cheese-crazy, I wasn’t sure that I would like it, but it turned out to be unexpectedly tasty (at least on our first attempt). The first time we made it, the Croque Monsieur was delicious, albeit somewhat rustic looking because we couldn’t cut the ciabatta into nice, even slices. It was nice and crunchy around the edges, but soft and cheesy in the middle, giving it an interesting, somewhat unusual texture. Just looking at the recipe initially, I was concerned that combination of the white sauce and cheese would be overwhelming. But, the mustard gave the sandwich the critical piquancy required to cut the richness of the white sauce and cheese, and so the flavours were actually very well balanced. On our second attempt, we tried to use normal, thick cut pre-sliced bread, and it turned out too dense and soggy because the bread wasn’t dry enough. If that wasn't bad enough, we must have played around with the amounts a little because the flavours were milder, so it wasn't as tasty. Of course, the second attempt was when we decided to make double the amount we had the first time. Ugh, not pleasant. Moral of the story, get the good stuff and remember to taste as you cook!
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
A pinch each of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, or more to taste
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups grated)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)
8 slices of French or Italian loaf bread
12 ounces ham, sliced
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Make the béchamel (white) sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium/low heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the flour and cook, stirring until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously, cooking until thick. Remove from heat. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/4 cup of the grated Gruyère. Set aside.
- Lay out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, a few minutes each side, until lightly toasted. For extra flavour you can spread some butter on the bread slices before you toast them if you want. (Alternatively, you can assemble the sandwiches as follows in step four and grill them on a skillet, finishing them in the broiler with the béchamel sauce.)
- Lightly brush half of the toasted slices with mustard. Add the ham slices and about 1 cup of the remaining Gruyère cheese. Top with the other toasted bread slices.
- Spoon on the béchamel sauce to the tops of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese. Place on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned.