Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, you ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. They were all the same: two slices of Wonder Bread and one or two slices of Kraft cheese, depending on how rich your parents were. The only differentiation was whether your sandwich was just lightly toasted or taken all the way to blackened bread. Actually, blackened made for an interesting flavor excursion.
As a kid, there was never any doubt in my mind that French cooking was superior to American. I did not have to travel to France to know that. But, when I finally did travel to France 30 years ago, I discovered how much better they really, really are. No simple grilled cheese for them. No, it is Croque -Monsieur with good bread, better cheese, and ham and béchamel sauce. I sat in my Left Bank café, took a couple of bites, and shriveled in my seat, embarrassed by those many years of Wonder and Kraft. How could I have lived that way? What kind of parents do that to their kids?
Well, nowadays, it is Croque-Monsieur or bust. Or Croque-Madam with the egg on top but, personally, I think that is overkill.
This recipe is from the superb Michel Roux Cheese. My review is here. The book belongs in your kitchen.
Yield: serves 6
- 12 slices of sandwich loaf, about 4 inches square
- 1 quart chilled bechamel sauce (recipe follows), well seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg, pepper and a touch of cayenne pepper
- 18 slices of ham, cut to the same size as the bread
- 5 ounces Aletsch or Gruyere, freshly grated
Lay a slice of bread on your work surface. Using a palette knife, spread a layer of bechamel over the slice, then place 2 slices of ham on top. Add a second layer of bechamel then place another slice of bread on top, pressing lightly on it. Place another slice of ham on top, then spread a generous layer of bechamel over the ham.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 6 croque-monsieurs in total and place them on a baking tray. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of them and press lightly into the bechamel so that it sticks well. Cover the tray with cling film and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the croque-monsieurs in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve on individual plates, either whole as they are, or cut into triangles.
Yield: 1 quart
- 2 ½ ounces of butter
- 2 ½ ounces of plain flour
- 1 quart cold milk
- Freshly grated nutmeg [optional]
- Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Melt the butter in a small, heavy-based saucepan over low heat, then add the flour. Stir with a whisk and cook gently for 2-3 minutes to make a roux.
Pour the cold milk on to the roux, whisking as you do so, and bring to the boil over medium heat, whisking continuously. When the sauce comes to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and a Little nutmeg if you wish, then pass the sauce through a fine chinois.
Either serve the bechamel sauce immediately or, if necessary, keep it warm in a bain-marie, dotting a few flakes of butter over the surface to stop a skin from forming.
Source: Michel Roux Cheese [Quadrille, 2017]