There are many ways to make a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but in my opinion the French way is best. Croque Monsieur is the classic French ham and cheese baked under a blanket of rich bechamel sauce and grated cheese. When a fried egg is placed on top the sandwich becomes a Croque Madame. This is common fare in Paris and each cafe and bistro has its own version. The sandwich first appeared on menus in 1910 as a fast food snack. The ingredients are simple: bread, ham and cheese, but the way they are combined can elevate this sandwich to an almost spiritual experience. Just thinking about a hot-from-the-oven Croque Madame makes my stomach growl and my mouth water. I have tried many different ways of preparing this heavenly sandwich and my favorite is a recipe by Chef Daniel Boulud that is served at Bar Boulud in NYC.
With so few ingredients it is important that they are the best available. This sandwich is traditionally made with a Pullman loaf of brioche, top quality ham and Gruyere cheese. If you can’t find brioche in a local bakery and you want to try making your own here is an excellent recipe and the results are well worth the effort.
Croque Monsieur, piled high with bechamel, cheese and ham is ready to go into a 400° oven.
Slice the bread into 1/3 to 1/2 inch slices and dry in a warm oven for about 10 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Top with a sunnyside up fried egg and, voilà, Croque Madame.
- For the Bechamel Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- For the Sandwiches:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 8 slices high quality Pullman loaf bread, sliced ⅓ to ½ inch thick
- 12 ounces sliced high quality ham
- 10 ounces Gruyere, coarsely grated
- For the Bechamel: In a small saucepan over low heat melt butter and whisk in the flour until blended but not colored. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside. (May be made up to 24 hours ahead of time and refrigerated with a layer of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of sauce, gently reheat before serving.)
- For the sandwiches: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. On a work surface, place bread slices in a single layer and spread each one evenly to the edges with bechamel; all the bechamel may not be needed. Divide ham among four of the slices, trimming it if necessary so it is within ¼ inches of edges. top all eight slices with equal amounts of cheese, spreading it evenly to within ¼ inch of edge.
- Place four bread slices with bechamel and cheese, cheese side up, on top of slices layered with ham. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until grated cheese topping is melted and golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately. If serving is a Madame, top with a fried egg.