Croque Monsieur, hello! When choosing my next "Learn With Me" recipe I wanted to tackle something obtainable, that wouldn't discourage me and this column (my biggest fear)! Without getting too serious, because it is really, just a grilled cheese, this french version taught me a whole lot (really) and if you're like me, just learning or a well-seasoned cook, following directions to anything is key. And the key here is butter! Butter, butter, butter! Oh and of course butter!
Actually there are a lot of keys to a good Croque Monsieur, and what I learned by not only following the recipe from Madame Ginette Mathiot, and researching it, there are quite a few versions. Which is the most authentic? That is debatable, and probably depends in which region in France you are eating it. When I lived in Montreal, I was most familiar with the bundled version; a nice little packet of grilled cheesy goodness, wrapped in parchment making it not so messy when grabbing a fast lunch. But the ones you see most in recipe books include the béchamel version, which folks, is a whole other animal. So today I present you, the one I'm most familiar, and luckily, Madame Mathiot is too!
Croque means crunch, and as I mentioned, butter is key and is what gives this French bistro favorite its' crunch. There is an entire stick of butter, so it's almost deep fried —and this is what differentiates it from an American grilled cheese. Oh, and the gruyere! It's a little tricky in that the bread can go soggy from all the butter soaking in, so a staler bread is what is recommended (or toast fresher bread a bit first), along with the correct cooking temperature. Learn with me!
Croque Monsieur (makes 2)
4 slices of white (staler side) bread (trim off crusts)
1 stick of butter
4 slices of gruyere cheese (or enough to cover each 2 pieces of bread)
2 pieces of ham (trimmed the same size as the bread)
kitchen twine (to tie around the sandwich)
Optional - dijon mustard
Like my previous Learn with Me recipe, I've tested this several times. And this time, I wasn't able to follow directions quite exactly, which I'll explain in steps. So first off, butter both sides of the bread slices. Place cheese on one side, and ham on the other. What some recipes I noticed seem to do at this point is add a slice in between the cheese and ham (but this recipe does not). Firmly close the breads together and tie with kitchen twine (to keep things in tact). Heat up a skillet to moderate heat and melt half of the balance of remaining butter. Once it has melted and is bubbling a bit (careful not to burn), add the Croque Monsieur. The recipe tells you to cook each side for 4 min each. Maybe because I don't have a gas stove, I couldn't make this happen without burning (and at the same time keeping the bread from going soggy), so basically with my electric ceramic stove, it took more like 2 minutes per side. In between flipping, add the remaining butter (spreading around evenly). Cook until nicely browned and serve immediately. As an option, you can spread dijon mustard on one of the inside slices of breads instead of butter which is equally delicious! I love it with gherkin pickles the most (it seems to pair well with the smokey taste of the gruyere). A grape is nice too! And for this grilled cheese, no dipping in ketchup! Try the dijon method if you miss a bit of tang. And that my friends is it! I'm a bit choked I didn't photograph it open with all the cheese melting down, but trust me, it is cheesy wheesy good! I think this would make a sweet Valentine's Day lunch for two (maybe cut the bread with a heart cookie cutter)? Bon Apetit!