uh yeah this makes me feel fancy.
it has honestly taken me a while to get this recipe down, mostly because the broiler on our oven will set off the smoke alarm if i even think about broiling something. my first few attempts resulted in a smoky oven, very loud unpleasant sounds, and worst of all, burnt bread crust.
but lookit! i have since succeeded and gotten each of the surfaces cooked in appropriate ways.
so... who likes the movie it's complicated starring meryl streep, alec baldwin, & steve martin?? you could safely say...that i am obsessed with it. peter is always like, "didn't you watch this last week?"
"...why, yes.... problem?!?"
its just a feel-good flick and i love nancy meyers' films and the colors and the music and the bakery and the kitchen and meryl and yaayayayayaaaaaaass let me in there! so my point is that they eat croque monsieur in this movie.
though i feel like i have finally mastered my homemade version of these, i gotta say that my local spot, bakery nouveau in west seattle, makes THE best croque monsieur. they just do.
it took me several tries to get this right, so all the process shots were photographed at different times. i didn't wanna throw a lot of these shots in the garbáge, so here they are.
one big key factor in getting this all right, is to TUCK THE HAM into the perimeter of the sandwich. don't let it stick out the edges or they will burn to a crisp and taste reeeal bad like.
tuck those hams, people!!
^^^ see? first attempt...did not tuck ham. shame shame.
also, spreading THIN, EVEN layers of the béchamel sauce onto the bread - alllll the way to the edges and beyond. very important step. don't let too much goop pile up in the center.
another important factor is the chewiness of the bread. you want something that's not going to be too crunchy like a baguette, not too soft or potentially soggy (worst), but with more elasticity and chew. does that even make sense? i used grand central bakery's campagnolo bread.
^^^ one of the previous attempts. not enough sauce or cheese spread over the edges of the bread. but still pretty good!
really don't be afraid to go overboard (like, actually over the edge) with the sauce and the cheese. you wanna protect that crust and get the sandwich to come together as one unit with the gruyere glue! i even take a spatula and spread a thin layer of sauce on the edges of the crust for that extra protection factor.
i'd never used herbes de provence before, but they're pretty crucial to the croque monsieur flavor. it is freakin fancy. it has lavender in it! like, whoa.
if you fancy some extra protein, make yourself a madame and add a fried egg on top of your freshly broiled sammich. it is sooo delicious with the extra flavor & texture of a runny egg yolk, if you're into that sorta thing.
then go watch it's complicated & live your best life.
Croque Monsieur & Madame
Makes 2 sandwiches
Time: 30 minutes
- 2 TB unsalted butter
- 2 TB all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup milk (2% or Whole)
- 1 TB dijon mustard
- pinch of salt
- 4 slices 1/2" thick, chewy bread (not too soft or crunchy)
- 4-6 slices of quality ham (I usually get thinly-sliced black forest ham from the deli)
- 4-6 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
- egg(s), if you desire Madames
- Herbes de Provence, a pinch on each sandwich
- freshly snipped chives, if desired
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. ***See alternate baking plan as well.
For the béchamel sauce: In a pan, combine the butter and flour on medium-low heat until a roux is formed. Add milk, a pinch of salt and increase heat to medium-high, whisking frequently until bubbling. Reduce heat to a low simmer and stir the mixture until thickened. This step happens quite quickly. Once the béchamel is thick, remove from heat and stir in 1 TB of dijon mustard.
In a separate pan, brown the slices of ham over just a few drops of olive oil on medium-low heat, turning frequently with a fork until slightly crisp and browned.
Grate the gruyere cheese. Lightly toast the bread, just so its not completely soft.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, begin building your sandwiches. If desired, spread a little dijon on the bread first (this isn't necessary since there is already dijon in the sauce, but I like a little bit extra). Spread an even thin layer of the béchamel sauce onto one side of each slice of bread with a spatula, making sure there is not too much sauce settled in the center.
Place a few slices of crispy ham on the slice of bread that will be the middle of the sandwich. Make sure to tuck all the edges of the ham into the perimeter of the bread, to prevent burnt edges. Sprinkle a bit of the gruyere cheese on top of the ham (especially close to the edges), and top with the other slice of bread. Once there is an even thin layer of béchamel on the top piece of bread, spread a little bit of extra béchamel sauce around the edges of the crust. I find that this helps contain the bread while baking and prevent super crunchy or burnt edges.
Top with the remainder of the gruyere cheese, purposely allowing the cheese to spill over the edges of the bread. You want both slices of bread to stick together as a whole unit, so think of the gruyere as the glue holding it all together once broiled. Sprinkle with a pinch of Herbes de Provence.
Bake the sandwiches at 400 degrees F for about 5 minutes, until the cheese has begun to melt and everything is warmed through. Remove from oven and set the oven to broil. Return the baking sheet to the oven and broil the cheese for about 5 more minutes, until the cheese begins to brown but the crust is not burnt. You don't want the sandwiches to turn out ultra crunchy.
Remove from oven and serve immediately. I prefer these while they're still warm, but you can save them for later if necessary. They're tasty when cold, too.
If you are making Madames, fry an egg sunny side up and place on top of the sandwich after broiling.
***If you trust your broiler to not burn your food, you could alternately heat the oven to 475 degrees F and bake the sandwiches for about 10 minutes total without adjusting the temperature halfway through. I found the adjusting method works best for me because our broiler burns food super fast without heating it all the way through.