There are certain things, in a culinary sense, that you just should not fuck with. One of those is: Croque Monsieur.
Originally a beautiful accident, the story goes that French workers had left their sandwich on a radiator and by lunchtime the cheese had melted. As time moved on a chef in a Paris café, a genius no doubt, saw fit to sauté the sandwich in butter. Anyone who has any interest in the history of ‘Le Crouque’ will know that Proust makes reference to it in ‘À la recherche du temps perdu‘ – first published in 1918:
Or, en sortant du concert, comme, en reprenant le chemin qui va vers l’hôtel, nous nous étions arrêtés un instant sur la digue, ma grand’mère et moi, pour échanger quelques mots avec Mme de Villeparisis qui nous annonçait qu’elle avait commandé pour nous à l’hôtel des «Croque Monsieur» et des ufs à la crème…
The Croque has thought to been in Paris and on menus since 1910. There are many ‘Croques’ that appear on menus nowadays (list below) but the original is undoubtedly the best:
The addition of a fried egg served on top – a Croque Madame
The addition of tomatoes – a Croque Provençal
The substitution of blue cheese for Gruyere – a Croque Auvergnat
The substitution of smoked salmon for the ham – a Croque Norvégien
Some of you may have bravely got to this point and be thinking ‘ seriously, what is this guy on – it is JUST a toasted sandwich’ it would be at this point that I kindly direct you to the back door of the internet and zap your hard-drive.
Along with Macaroni and Cheese the Croque Monsieur really gets me going. I had a conversation with @MathildeCuisine not too long ago about Béchamel Sauce, she like me knows that to be a true Croque you must have Béchamel. I have been to countless restaurants (in the UK) and ordered a Croque and have had to send back my order. The most memorable of which was some years ago in Café Bohéme in Soho, the Chef personally came to the table and I told him that if I had wanted a toasted cheese and ham sandwich I could have gone to a sandwich shop and not have had to pay £6.95 for the privilege. He proceeded to shout at me and I ordered something else. I am sure that they spat in my soup.
It is really simple to get correct – Cheese (gruyère), Ham (wet cured, thinly sliced), Béchamel Sauce (cold and thick), Bread (Pain de Mie) – that is it four items – You then sandwich the cheese, ham and a bit of Béchamel in the bread – butter and grill each side – take some more cheese and Bechamel and pop it under the grill till golden and bubbling , not that hard to get right is it?
I used to live in Chambèry for a year when I was younger. There was this little bar on a backstreet near the Palais de Justice that backed onto the river that made the best Croque that I have ever had. The bread was rectangular and not square, which automatically gave you about 50% more surface area for browned cheese and Béchamel. The best bit about it was that it cost 10 francs which at the time was £1, I ate far too many of them over that year and when I was leaving the owner’s wife who toiled out back showed me her process and how she did it. The secret was a little grill/oven that had elements both above and below. This meant that you did not have to get all technical and turn things over etc. They never had those in the UK and I took one home with me, it lasted about 10 years before I gave it a good send off.
Now, the observant, non vulgar readers who would not have approved of my earlier profanity, will now all probably never read my blog again. After whining on about my love and adoration for ‘Mr Crispy’ and how I think that it should be left alone to shine on a plate – unadorned, crispy, gently browned and tantalisingly silken – I have just, uh, well – gone and fucked with it.
After reading @MathildeCuisine post on Leek Bechamel Pasta I thought that maybe, just maybe it was time to try and improve upon perfection. There were some leeks in the fridge and I had found this little bakery in the middle of nowhere (Wembley) it is run by a very nice Japanese lady and it has great baked goods – the best of which is a white sandwich bread that is a cross between a Pain de Mie and a Pain au Beurre – PERFECT for a Croque. I had some regular Gruyère and some cave aged as well – after a bit of searching I found a Jambon de Paris that came up to scratch and that was thinly sliced.
Croque a Leekie (I know, I know!)
2 Slices of Great White Bread.
30g Gruyère (mild)
25g Aged Gruyère
2 Slices Jambon de Paris
6tbs cold Béchamel sauce (thick)
1/2 Medium Leek
Thinly slice and soften the leeks in a pan for 25 mins. Season.
Grate both cheeses into a bowl.
Take half the Béchamel and mix with the leeks. Sandwich 1/2 the cheese, the ham and the leek Béchamel inbetween the slices of bread. Butter the outside of the bread and grill on each side until golden brown. if you have a good heavy based frying pan, fry on a medium heat in a little butter until golden.
When done, mix the remaining sauce and cheese and spread thickly over one side of the toasted sandwich and put under a very hot grill until golden.
Serve immediately and eat as quickly as the molten topping allows.