Eric Akis: Monte Cristo makes a meal out of Easter ham leftovers

Eric Akis

I you have leftover baked ham from Easter dinner, an always-popular way to use some of it up the next day or two is in sandwich. They can be pretty simple, ham, lettuce, mustard and not much else, or more fanciful, even in their name.

I chose the latter route and made a hot sandwich called a Monte Cristo. Several sources suggest it’s an American variation of the French croque monsieur, first served in Paris cafés in the early 1900s.

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To make a croque monsieur, slices of buttered French bread are filled with ham and cheese, such as Gruyere, and grilled. The sandwich is then smothered with béchamel (white sauce), topped with more cheese and broiled until bubbling and delicious.

Some sources say a Monte Cristo was first served at the historic Coronado Hotel in San Diego. In and around the 1950s it became a popular sandwich served in restaurants all around California, and eventually the rest of North America. The origins of it name are unknown, and the technique used to make the sandwich can vary a bit.

But, in short, a Monte Cristo is kind of savoury style of stuffed French toast. Fill two slices – or even three in some recipes –of bread with slices of Swiss cheese and ham, turkey and/or chicken. Dip the sandwich in a beaten egg mixture, and then grill in melted butter or hot oil until deep golden on the outside, and piping hot in the middle. In some recipes the sandwich is not grilled, but instead deep-fried until golden.

Matching the French toast theme, after plating the sandwich, in some restaurants and recipes, it’s sometimes lightly dusted with icing sugar. It’s also often served with a small bowl of raspberry or other jelly, jam, cranberry sauce or even maple syrup, to spoon on the sandwich. Taste wise that doesn’t sound like it should work, but the tangy cheese and smoky ham do seem to pair well with sweet accents like that.

In my grilled version of a Monte Cristo, I filled it with ham and Swiss cheese and passed on dusting it with icing sugar, as that was too much sweetness for me. As for the preserve, I choose a spicy one, red pepper jelly, which you’ll find for sale and most supermarkets. If you don’t care for it, I’ve also suggested a few other preserves you could try, or, if desired, simply serve the sandwich as is, without it.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

Use some of your leftover Easter ham in these hearty sandwiches that are like a savoury, stuffed version of French toast. In the recipe I said to add sliced ham to taste, simply pile on the amount that best fits the size of bread you have and appetite.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About eight minutes

Makes: two servings

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp milk

4 slices white bread

• mayonnaise, to taste

4 slices Swiss cheese (see Note)

• sliced ham, to taste

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp butter

• red pepper jelly, cranberry sauce, crabapple jelly, quince jelly, fig jam or other preserve, to taste (optional)

Crack eggs into a wide sided dish or plate that’s large enough to fit both sandwiches.

Beat eggs until well blended. Now beat in the milk.

Set two slices of the bread on a work surface and spread with mayonnaise. Top each of those bread slices with a slice of cheese. Now top the cheese with ham. Top the ham on each sandwich with the last two slices of cheese. Spread mayonnaise on one side of the remaining two slices of bread and set them on the sandwiches, mayonnaise-side down. Press down lightly on each sandwich to slightly compact them.

Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. As the pan warms, set the sandwiches in the egg mixture and let soak 30 seconds. Now turn each sandwich over and let soak in the egg mixture on that side 30 seconds.

Add the butter to the hot skillet. When melted, set in the sandwiches and cook four minutes, or until rich golden on the underside. (Lower heat if sandwiches are browning too quickly.) Turn each sandwich over and cook four minutes more, or until rich golden on that side and the cheese in the sandwich is melted.

Cut each sandwich into halves or quarters and, if desired, serve with red pepper jelly or other preserve, for spooning on them.

Note: Sliced Swiss cheese is sold at many supermarkets, prepackaged or by the slice in the deli case. You can, of course, by a chunk of Swiss cheese and slice it yourself. Make sure the slices of cheese cover the whole slice of bread.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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