Monday, January 31, 2011

Croque-Madames and Puppy Love

The Croque-Madame sandwiches featured in the December/January 2011 issue of Fine Cooking appealed to me for our occasional, at-home Sunday brunch. I almost ordered one when we recently dined at Cafe Chloe, a charming French bistro in downtown San Diego's East Village. When John and I stumble upon a food find, such as this little cafe recommended by Chris, it never fails. We end up bitching over Coronado's restaurants, and wondering why such an enchanting resort town is not blessed with just one sidewalk cafe that offers simple, yet marvelous breakfast dishes. I don't mean to sound like a food snob, but it's slim pickins in a town with so much potential. We're forced to settle for average, or go off island in search of gratifying food.

More often than not, we cook at home. This is a good thing, since we love to cook and manage to do it well on most occasions. So, on this particular Sunday morning, we picked up fresh bread, eggs, and ham, and had time to prepare and savor our crunchy, gooey, croque madames before an afternoon visit with Bob and Sandra, and new puppy, River.

Sandra warned me ahead of time to be prepared for unbearable cuteness.  This adorable boy came all the way from Colorado.

Tearing myself away from irresistible puppy fluff, and getting back to food, I don't recall ever eating one of these French sandwiches before. A croque-monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that originated in France as a fast-food snack served in cafés and bars. The name is based on the verb croquer ("to crunch") and the word monsieur ("mister"), colloquially shortened to croque. More "elaborate" versions come coated in a Béchamel sauce or Mornay sauce. A croque-monsieur served with a fried egg or poached egg on top is referred to as a croque-madame. To me, this is backwards; a man is more likely to slap a fried egg on a sandwich. However, in this case, the egg apparently resembles an old fashioned woman's hat.

I quickly checked out a few of my cookbooks for recipes to compare with Fine Cooking's "riff on the classic" (FC uses leftover roasted fresh ham, rather than cured ham). When I haven't made something before, I like to compare a few recipes and them adapt them to my tastes. Barefoot Contessa's Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home, has a recipe for the croque-monsieur, but I definitely wanted the egg on top.   Thomas Keller's Bouchon also has a recipe, but with a more elaborate Mornay sauce than I was willing to prepare that particular morning. Fine Cooking's béchamel sauce was unique with the addition of brandy, Worcestershire sauce and fresh thyme.

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on's only John playing with his new Lensbaby!

Slightly modified from Fine Cooking
Serves 4

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 spring fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices brioche, or country-style bread
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 ounces Gruyère, or Emmental, grated (1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces ham, sliced, but not too thin
1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (1/2 cup)
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking just until it turns beige, about 20 seconds. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, and continue whisking until smooth, thickened, and slightly bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the brandy, Worcestershire sauce, thyme sprig, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk for 30 seconds, turn off the heat, and remove thyme sprig. Set aside, whisking occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.

Position a rack 4 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high.

Spread four of the bread slices on one side with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard each. Sprinkle some Gruyère over the mustard, followed by 2 slices of ham each, and then the remaining Gruyère. Top with the remaining bread.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook 2 of the sandwiches until brown and crisp, over medium-low heat, turning once halfway through the cooking, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with another tablespoon of butter and the remaining 2 sandwiches.

Ladle the béchamel sauce over the sandwiches (it will run down the sides), and then sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Broil until bubbling and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet and fry them sunny side up until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, 3 to 4 minutes.

Use a large, flat spatula to transfer the sandwiches to serving plates. Place a fried egg on each. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

Newf Notes:

After loving Fine Cooking's version, especially the béchamel, and in preparation for writing this post, I looked at a few more recipes to see if I would do or suggest anything different.

I'm sorry, the food snob is sneaking out again, but I just don't see how Paula Deen can even call her sandwich a Croque Madame when she replaces the luscious béchamel with slathered mayonnaise. It further blows me away her recipe has 5 stars.  I'm just "gonna" say, Paula, skip the mayo and go with the béchamel or mornay sauce, it ain't rocket science!

I might go with Brioche next time - our bread was a little too thick and crusty. Have it sliced for you if possible. Poached eggs would be nice - more yolk to ooze out over the top. If you want it prettier, add a sprinkling of chopped parsley over the top of that lady's hat. Perhaps a little fruit salad on the side.



bunkycooks said...

The puppy is darling!! :) We also have problems finding food worthy of eating out. That's because we can cook pretty good stuff at home (and I KNOW you can)! I love this version of the Croque-Madames and I agree, mayo on the sandwich is blasphemy! Your version is perfect.

Think we can find one of these in New Orleans??!!

diane said...

I absolutely love, love your site. I am so pleased to have found it; I've tried many of your recipes and loved them all. Thank you.

Carolyn Jung said...

My fave Croque-Monsieur? The one Eric Ripert made, then handed me at a fellow chef's house long ago. I'm sure he doesn't even remember doing that. But believe you me, I'll remember that forever! LOL

Kim said...

Maybe I'm a snob too... but I don't feel like I have enough "good" dining options in my hometown. And - we're pretty decent home cooks, so we can't justify spending $$$ on food items we know we can make better at home. At this point, it's seriously limiting what we're able to order!

Beautiful croques... and beautiful puppy!!!!


Kevin said...

Those are some nice looking croque madames

Suzanne said...

Hi there, loved this post and the puppy is so dang cute! I spotlighted your recipe on my blog hope you don't mind. Here is the link
Have a great week!

kay hay said...

This was a great recipe! I altered your version a little as I was throwing something together at the last minute and was short on ingredients. I didn't have enough bread, so I did it open faced, frying the bread slightly as you would crostinis, then the mustard, the ham, cheddar cheese because that was all I had, then the sauce, broiled it to melt the cheese, then added the fried egg on top. Huge hit! Also, I only made about half the sauce and it was plenty. Thanks for sharing. This is the first I have been to you blog, I will be back!

Anonymous said...

Is there anything we can use in stead of Brandy. We are not big brandy drinkers.

Peter said...

Hi, I got to hear about your Blog via Facebook. Just love the pictures, especially of breakfast foods. Will try some of your recipes when my wife gives me permission to enter the kitchen.Thanks again.

Peter said...

Hi, Got to hear about your Blog via Facebook. Great food pictures, especially the breakfast food. I'll be trying some of the recipes when my wife gives me permission to enter the kitchen. Thanks again.
Peter Haynes