At its best a croque monsieur is a strong contender for the world’s finest cheese and ham sandwich. It basically is a french gourmet version of the grilled cheese.
There are very few ingredients but to make the classic bistro favourite, each ingredient must be of the best quality and of course the right choice.
So as this is a sandwich, it makes sense to start with the right bread. A good croque monsieur is both crisp and tender. You need a soft yet firm white sandwich bread, (pain de mie), reasonably thick slices. Some people like brioche for their croque because it’s both soft and buttery, but any high-quality white sandwich bread is good here.
Next the cheese. The traditional is a delicious gruyère. Gruyère is a firm, slightly elastic mountain cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty flavour. Most importantly for our purposes, it melts magnificently, but a good comté or cantal is just as good. Freshly grated is very important. You do not want to use pre grated and packaged.
Next is the ham. Again here, not any old packaged ham. Nice medium sliced french ham is best.
Of course, there is one thing that sets the croque apart from other great cheese and ham toasted sandwiches, namely that it arrives at the table drowned in golden and bubbling bechamel sauce.
The croque monsieur often comes accessorised with dijon mustard, the acidic heat tempering its outrageous cheesiness.
And of course if you wish to make a croque madame, it is exactly the same thing but with a fried egg added on top.
8 thick slices white bread
8 slices ham, preferably Paris ham (jambon blanc)
150g / 5oz. Gruyère, grated
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
30g / 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
30g / ¼ cup all-purpose flour
250ml / 1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F
Béchamel: Melt the butter on low heat
Add the flour and whisk for a few minutes Add the cold milk, bit by bit, while whisking continuously
Add the nutmeg and season to taste
Allow to thicken slightly
Pour into a bowl, cover with cling film or plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes
Spread some of the cold béchamel on each slice of bread
Add a bit more than half of the grated cheese onto 4 slices of bread
Place a slice of ham on top of the cheese
Close the slices of bread by placing the slices with béchamel on top of the slices with the cheese and ham, béchamel side inside
Press firmly to close
Spread the remaining béchamel on the sandwiches and top with the rest of the grated cheese
Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper
Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown