How to Make a Croque-Monsieur (and Madame!)
The French know how to take food to the next level — and so does the team at Bouchon Café, part of The Restaurant and Bar Collection at Time Warner Center. Take the classic croque-monsieur, which is essentially a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich. Layer on creamy Mornay sauce, and suddenly the humble ham-and-cheese is transformed into one of the most delicious meals on earth. Top it with a fried egg, and you’ve got a delightful croque-madame. We caught up with Luther Dowdy, Chef de Cuisine of Bouchon Café and Bakery, who shared some fun facts about the dish, as well as the recipe and his insider tips.
The History of the Croque-Monsieur: It’s an old French café staple. It was invented to be a quick snack or lunch. It’s also the perfect hangover cure. It’s got fat, it’s got carbs, it’s got protein. It’s an all-in-one breakfast. They call it “the cure all.”
Why It’s Better at Bouchon Bakery: Like everything at Bouchon, we give that extra attention to detail. We source the best ingredients. Our bread is baked fresh in our bread department upstairs. We clarify the butter.
The Cheese: Swiss is the way to go. It has a nutty flavor, it has body, and it holds up when you melt it. Fontina is also good. But we like to stick with a classic Swiss.
The Bread: If you don’t have Bouchon’s brioche bread at home, you can use white sandwich bread, sourdough bread, or potato bread. But brioche is the best — it has that buttery goodness.
The Sauce: We use a Mornay sauce instead of a Béchamel sauce. Mornay, a roux-thickened white sauce, is a luxurious cheese sauce that we use for gratinéed scallops, macaroni and cheese, Croque-Monsieurs and -Madames, and crêpes. Without the Mornay sauce, it’s just a ham-and-cheese sandwich.
Aromatics: I also love to sprinkle in some nutmeg to add extra flavor.
The Egg: This is what transforms a croque-monsieur into a croque-madame. Cook it sunny-side up.
Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich with a Fried Egg and Mornay Sauce
Croque Madame, Sauce Mornay
Makes 4 Servings
Eight 1/2-inch-thick slices brioche
(about 4 inches square)
8 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham
8 slices (about 1/2 ounce each) Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup Mornay sauce, warmed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Lay out the bread slices. Divide the ham among them, making sure it doesn’t extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.
3. Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you have only one large pan, make 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread cheese side up to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese.
4. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites.
5. When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley. Serve with frites, if desired.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced (1/4 inch) Spanish onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream, or as needed
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup grated Comté or Emmentaler cheese
1. Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn’t burn or color. Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan — don’t scrape the bottom of the pan — and continue.)
2. Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.
Makes 2 cups
Excerpted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2004.