Eric Akis: That’s one crispy mister

akis.jpgI had brunch with three friends a few weeks ago in Vancouver’s Gastown at a place called The Flying Pig. On the menu was croque madame and two of my friends ordered it. I didn’t but wish I had — it looked amazing and they scarfed down every last bite.

If you’ve not had it before, you would be correct in assuming croque madame is a French-style dish. But to make it, you first have to whip up croque monsieur.

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Confused?

Let me explain.

According to a number of sources, croque monsieur began being offered as a quick, yet filling snack in Paris cafés around 1910. One unverified story suggests the idea for it came after some French workers had left their lunch kits on a radiator, the cheese in their sandwiches melted, they ate the sandwiches anyway and were pleased.

Croque monsieur in English translates to “crispy mister.” If the story about the French workers is true, that naming seems appropriate, because when the guys’ hot cheese sandwich started being offered in cafés, the bread did have some crunch and much more mister.

The more part is that the French bread used was coated in butter and the cheese sandwich, often made with Gruyere, also had ham in it. The sandwich was then grilled until crispy on the outside, smothered with béchamel (white sauce), topped with more cheese and then broiled until that cheese was melted and glorious.

A variation of croque monsieur appeared later and also became popular. Simply topping the grilled and broiled sandwich with a fried egg is how it’s made. Some sources suggest it was called croque madame because that egg resembled an old-fashioned woman’s hat, but to me it seems only fair to have both a croque monsieur and a croque madame.

These days, there are many other variations of both, where different types of cheese, breads and fillings are used.

Today, I’m offering a recipe for a more classic croque monsieur that can be turned into a croque madame. I’ve also provided a Canadian-style version of a croque madame that I included in a column years ago. I don’t have a photo of it, but trust me, it looks and is delicious.

 

Croque Monsieur

This is a more traditional version of croque monsieur. I like to serve it with slices of ripe fresh tomato or a simple green salad. To make croque madame, simply top the broiled sandwich with a fried egg, or two if you are really hungry.

 

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 10-12 minutes

Makes: two servings

 

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp flour

3/4 cup milk

• salt and white pepper to taste

• pinch ground nutmeg

125 grams Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated

4 thick slices of French bread

2 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste

4 to 6 slices country-style or Black Forest ham

1 green onion, thinly sliced

 

Melt the butter in a small pot set over medium heat. Mix in the flour and cook two minutes. Very slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and continually whisk until you have a lightly thickened white sauce. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover this white sauce and set aside.

Butter one side of each bread slice. Set two bread slices on a work surface, buttered side down. Spread the tops of those slices with the mustard. Now divide and top the mustard on each bread slice with ham and two thirds of the grated cheese. On top of this, set the other two bread slices, buttered side up.

Set a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add sandwiches and cook until golden brown and crispy, about three minutes per side. Transfer the sandwiches to a non-stick baking sheet.

Set an oven rack six inches below your oven’s broiler. Preheat the broiler. Spoon and spread white sauce over each sandwich (its OK if it spills over the sides). Top each sandwich with some of the remaining grated cheese. Broil the sandwiches until cheese begins to brown, about two minutes. Set a sandwich on each of two plates, scooping up and including the broiled white sauce that dripped onto the pan. Sprinkle the croque monsieur with green onion and serve.

 

Croque Madame Canadienne 

I came up with this recipe a few years ago and published it with a story I did on bacon. It’s lighter than a traditional croque madame in that there is only one slice of bread per serving, the bread is not buttered or grilled, and I topped it with a poached egg, not a fried one. I also gave it a Canadian twist by using aged Canadian cheddar cheese instead of the usual Gruyere, and substituted Canadian bacon for the ham.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 10-12 minutes

Makes: two servings

 

• white vinegar (optional)

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp flour

3/4 cup milk

• salt and white pepper to taste

• pinch nutmeg

100 grams aged Canadian cheddar cheese, grated

2 thick slices of French bread

2-3 tsp Dijon mustard

2 large eggs

4-6 slices Canadian (back) bacon

 

Bring a small pot of water to a simmer to poach the eggs, adding a drop of white vinegar, if desired. Set an oven rack six inches beneath your oven’s broiler. Preheat the broiler.

Melt the butter in another small pot set over medium heat. Mix in the flour and cook two minutes. Very slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and continually whisk until you have a lightly thickened white sauce. Remove from heat; mix in 1/3 of the cheese and the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover the sauce and set aside.

Place the Canadian bacon in a non-stick skillet and set over medium-low heat and heat through. While the bacon heats through, place the bread slices on a non-stick baking sheet. Set under the broiler and lightly toast the bread on both sides, and then remove from the oven. Softly poach the eggs.

While eggs poach, spread the top of the toasted bread slices with the mustard. Set two or three slices of the bacon on top of each bread slice. When the eggs are cooked, carefully remove from water, drain well, and set one on top of each slice of bread. Spoon the cheese sauce over the eggs; sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Broil two minutes, until the saucy topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

Set a sandwich on each of two plates, scooping up and including the broiled white sauce that dripped on to the pan. If desired, serve the croque madame with a sliced ripe tomatoes or a simple green salad.

Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

eakis@timescolonist.com

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