“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” -Julia Child
Leave it to the French to take a pedestrian grilled ham and cheese and elevate it to something, well, so decidedly decadent. I was nearly giddy with delight as I sampled my creation(s), or properly, Julia Child’s creation. While many variations are floating about, I picked this version from my 1977 edition of From Julia Child’s Kitchen. This dish is all about simplicity and fresh ingredients.
Of course, Julia had a way of making even the most complicated French dishes accessible to the home cook, yet she had an equal love for ordinary fare. She was quite literally a legend in her own time, and what better way to honor her memory than by preparing one of her favorite dishes, Croque Monsieur. August 15 would have been her 100th birthday, so her publisher, Knopf (#JC100), along with PBS (#CookforJulia) and food bloggers around the world (#SundaySupper) are celebrating. Why not join in the fun?
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” -Julia Child
According to the The Oxford Companion to Food, Croque Monsieur literally means “crunch-sir” or “munch-sir,” but its origins are not clear. This popular French snack first appeared on French menus in the early 20th century. Its sibling, the Croque Madame, is a more recent invention, with the addition of chicken, or a fried egg on top. While I tend to believe everything tastes better when topped with a fried egg, I’m a purest at heart. Well, almost. Traditionally, the sandwich should be made with Emmentaler or Gruyère, but Julia recommended fresh Mozzarella because its “softer consistency blends more meltingly with the ham, the butter, and the bread.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!
“Life itself is the proper binge.” -Julia Child
This binge spanned a good four days as hubby and I sampled a variety of cheeses and hams. (These sandwiches are so rich, you really can’t eat more than one per day.) There was no clear winner–sandwich or waistline–but if I must choose, I’d pick the fresh Mozzarella with rosemary ham with only a slight edge over the Emmentaler with Black Forest ham. Both were sandwiched between slices of fresh “famous bake house white” from Safeway’s bakery, which was surprisingly irresistible on its own.
So grab a stick of butter, some bread, ham, and cheese, and let’s begin!
First, we must clarify the butter, which simply means melting butter then skimming off the milk solids. This gives the butter a higher smoke point and will prevent it from browning/burning when sautéing the sandwiches.
Next we need to line up our ingredients–bread with crusts trimmed, slices of cheese and ham. As you can see, I had a hard time getting “thin” slices of the Mozzarella. Oh well.
Before assembling, brush the bread with clarified butter. Then layer the cheese, the ham, and the cheese. Yep, I said cheese twice.
Then slowly sauté in clarified butter until golden melty goodness. I know, that makes no sense, but you get the picture.
And enjoy with your favorite salad and a glass of wine! Or, cut into bite sized pieces and serve as an appetizer. Either way, it’s sure to be a hit.
Here’s the easy print version:
- 2 thin slices (1/4 inch thick) fresh white sandwich bread of best homemade-type quality, such as Pain de Mie
- 2 to 3 tbsp clarified butter (butter melted, skimmed, the clear liquid poured off the milky residue–have a small saucepan of it for several sandwiches)
- 2 thin slices (1/8 inch thick) Mozzarella cheese or rather soft Swiss
- 1 thin slice (1/8 inch thick) cooked ham, the dimensions of the bread
- For each sandwich, lay a slice of bread on your work surface, brush it with clarified butter, cover with a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, another slice of cheese, then brush one side of the second slice of bread with butter, and lay it buttered side down on top of the sandwich.
- Now press the sandwich together firmly, leaning on it with the palm of your hand.
- Trim off crusts, and press down again on sandwich.
- Film a frying pan with ⅛ inch of the clarified butter, heat to bubbling, and brown the sandwiches rather slowly (2 to 3 minutes) on each side, so the cheese will melt; add more butter as needed.
- For appetizers, cut the sandwiches into quarters or eighths.
If you’d like to see Julia Child and Jacques Pepin making both Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame (as well as some other sandwiches), here’s the full PBS episode: Julia and Jacques making Croque Monsieur and Madame
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