The classic croque-monsieur is an elevated ham and cheese melt. Think melted gruyère cheese, thick slices of ham, crusty sourdough bread, a hint of dijon mustard, and all of it smothered with a velvety white béchamel sauce. Scrumptious!
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CLASSIC CROQUE-MONSIEUR
I didn’t grow up eating croque-monsieurs. I grew up eating plain old grilled cheese sandwiches with a dollop of Heinz ketchup and tomato soup. I’m not knocking grilled cheese either; I adore grilled cheese sandwiches! The croque-monsieur is something else though. The first time I had a croque-monsieur, a timeless French recipe, I was in my second year of university. One of my best friends invited me to her dorm room and made me this sandwich “It’s a croque-monsieur,” she explained. A ham and cheese sandwich taken to the next level. If you’re new to this particular breed of sandwich, you’re in for a treat!
THE FRENCH KNOW HOW TO MAKE A HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICH
When you hear “ham and cheese sandwich” it doesn’t spark any excitement, does it? Some ham and cheese sandwiches are better than others, and the classic croque-monsieur fits that bill. First of all, it’s toasted. It’s also smothered in a velvety, white béchamel sauce. These can be made in advance, which is something restaurants often do. When you have them ready to go, all you need to do is pop them in the oven to warm up and broil. Let’s walk through the key elements of a classic croque-monsieur sandwich.
Ah, the ham. It’s by far the most important ingredient in a ham and cheese sandwich! I’m in the school that believes that quality ingredients make the best meals, as long as you know how to use them. It makes no sense to go out and buy the finest ingredients if you can’t even boil water! In this case, the better the ham, the better the sandwich. On the flip side, I wouldn’t go out and buy Iberico ham for this or anything that can shine on its own; you gotta be realistic about these things! What I buy is something that is locally produced. I like supporting farmers who raise their pigs humanely and sustainably, and I also want to make sure that the final product is free from carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites. For the classic croque-monsieur, I like thick slices, but don’t let me stop you from getting shaved ham.
Ah, cheese. The second most important ingredient in a ham and cheese sandwich. For this particular variant, Croque purists will insist on using Gruyère, a hard yellow Swiss cheese. However, real Gruyère is expensive and not always readily available; any melty, gooey white cheese with character will do. When I prepared my version, I used Comté, a French cheese in the same vein as Gruyère – both because of personal preference for the former, but mostly because I didn’t find Gruyère. With that being said, feel free to swap it with your cheese of choice! There are no wrong answers in the world of cheese. Unless you’re thinking of using Singles or Cheez Whiz. Cheese products aren’t cheese!
Ah, bread. The third most important ingredient in a ham and cheese sandwich. Choosing the right bread is important for any sandwich, as the right bread will maintain the sandwich’s structural integrity. However, a sturdy bread is especially important for croque-monsieurs, as it needs to hold up to the béchamel that blankets the top of it. It can’t be too airy, or the sauce will simply seep through and make a mess; it can’t be too soft, or your sandwich will fall apart. I love sourdough bread, and a dense sourdough loaf is perfect for a croque-monsieur.
One day I will make (or steal!) a sourdough starter, but until then, I will support my local bakery. For this recipe, I like thick slices of bread (about one inch thick), but follow your heart. If you can’t decide on a thickness, or if you want to ensure consistency, you can always get pre-sliced bread! Not all bakeries have slicers, but if yours does, or if you use commercial bread, feel free to take advantage of that convenience. Whichever way you slice it, spread butter and mustard on the sandwich bookends before assembling your Man-Crunchers. That’s a direct translation, by the way.
Everyone should know how to make a basic béchamel sauce. It’s one of my favourite frugal kitchen rules, because if you know how to make this white sauce, it opens up a number of possibilities for dinner that might have been left off the table. Béchamel pairs beautifully with this sandwich. It’s a great option for anything that requires melted cheese and the best part is that it’s a snap to make. It only wants flour, butter, milk and seasonings. Three main ingredients. Isn’t that beautiful? Also, once you know how to make a béchamel, it opens the doors for other exciting sauces!
But wait, there’s more! The croque-monsieur is delicious as is and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like making a few extra croque-monsieurs when I have them on the menu because in the morning, I make small depressions in the sandwiches, crack eggs into them, and pop the lot into a hot oven. The cheese melts, the eggs cook, and when they come out of the oven, eggy and beautiful, the soft yolk runs into the sandwich when pierced with a fork. It makes it that much better. The added breakfast appeal with the egg changes the croque-monsieur to a croque-madame. Definitely try it out!
CLASSIC CROQUE-MONSIEUR RECIPE VIDEO:
CLASSIC CROQUE-MONSIEUR INGREDIENTS:
Note: Sandwiches are deeply personal. The quantity of meat, cheese, butter, mustard and béchamel you want on your classic croque-monsieur are entirely up to you. If you want to see the quantities I use for my own sandwiches, please watch my recipe video.
Sourdough bread, thickly sliced
Good quality ham
Dijon or ancient-style mustard
FOR THE BECHAMEL (makes 1.5 cups)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1.5 cups milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
CLASSIC CROQUE-MONSIEUR INSTRUCTIONS:
FOR THE BECHAMEL:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add flour and stir it around, letting it cook for 1-2 minutes.
Whisk in the milk and stir continually, scraping along the inside rim to ensure there's no scorching.
As the sauce heats up, season it with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
Remove from heat once thickened.
FOR THE CROQUES-MONSIEURS
Make the béchamel.
Set the oven to broil on high.
Spread butter and mustard on the bottom slice.
Add a layer of ham.
Paint on a thin strip of béchamel over the ham.
Sprinkle a bit of cheese over the béchamel to help the top slice stick.
Cover up the sandwiches and spoon on béchamel over the top slice.
Add a handful of cheese on top of the béchamel.
Pop into the oven for a quick broil. Check frequently to make sure it doesn't burn!
PRINTABLE CLASSIC CROQUE-MONSIEUR RECIPE CARD
- Sourdough bread thickly sliced
- Good quality ham
- Gruyère shredded
- Dijon or ancient-style mustard
The Béchamel (makes 1.5 cups)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1.5 cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- pinch nutmeg
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Add flour and stir it around, letting it cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Whisk in the milk and stir continually, scraping along the inside rim to ensure there’s no scorching.
- As the sauce heats up, season it with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
- Remove from heat once thickened.
- Make the béchamel.
- Set the oven to broil on high.
- Spread butter and mustard on the bottom slice.
- Add a layer of ham.
- Paint on a thin strip of béchamel over the ham.
- Sprinkle a bit of cheese over the béchamel to help the top slice stick.
- Cover up the sandwiches and spoon on béchamel over the top slice.
- Add a handful of cheese on top of the béchamel.
- Pop into the oven for a quick broil. Check frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn!
PIN IT FOR LATER
Love and gratitude,