French take basic sandwich up a notch
Normally when someone sends me a recipe request, I have a vague idea what they're talking about. Not so for Vickie Chen's dilemma:
"Do you know of a good recipe for Croque-Monsieur? Had it a long time ago in Paris and it's served in many places in San Francisco."
I knew I shoulda studied French.
Anyway, my ignorance of Parisian bistros shows. Croque-Monsieur is a fancified grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It translates to "Crispy Mister," which I can't explain. A Croque-Madame is a similar sandwich with a fried egg on top -- perhaps because the egg looks like a lady's hat? I learned that from the Food Network.
So much for the detour into linguistic trivia. How do you make the thing?
By happy coincidence, the New York Times News Service offered an entire article on the Croque-Monsieur a few weeks ago. I saw it, but it did not register in my brain, as it seemed to be a whole lot of words about a ham and cheese sandwich. Luckily, though, the article was still lurking in our computer system when Chen's request came through.
Writer Alex Witchel was looking for a salty, crunchy dish to accompany a cold drink on a summer day. She found it at New York's Bar Boulud, which she describes as renowned chef Daniel Boulud's "slice of pig heaven."
This sandwich boosts the fat content of your basic ham-and-cheese to astronomic levels, but, hey, you only live once. You'll need to find Gruyere cheese, probably in the specialty cheese cooler of your supermarket -- not near the Kraft Singles. And you'll need to make a Bechamel Sauce, which takes some amount of patience.
Adapted from Bar Boulud, via the New York Times
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 slices high-quality bread, sliced 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick
12 ounces thickly sliced high-quality ham
10 ounces Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
» Bechamel Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
Salt and white pepper, to taste
To make sauce: Melt butter over low heat and whisk in flour until blended, but not colored. Gradually whisk in milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.
Spread each bread slice to edges with sauce. Place ham on four of the slices. Top all the slices with cheese, to within 1/4 inch of edges. Place the 4 slices with just sauce and cheese on top of the slices layered with ham, cheese side up. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until cheese topping is melted and golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 850 calories, 53 g total fat, 29 g saturated fat, 180 mg cholesterol, more than 1,500 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 49 g protein.
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