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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Amazing Croque Monsieur that won't make your ass bigger than the Eiffel Tower.

Today's post is dedicated to an absolutely amazing woman,
my dear, darling friend Vicky Kahn.

You have the heart of an angel, my love.

Je t'aime encore plus...

It's all true. The best bread in the world is in Paris.

For those who have been, you know I speak the truth. For those who have not been, you don't know what you're missing.

In New York, there is a chain of cafe's - Le Pain Quotidien. The bread in each of their five or six city stores is the closest to Parisian style bread I've found yet in NYC.

At least twice a week I swing by the local bakery and get a baguette. I shred it up and put it on salads, cut up and make homemade croutons or simply tear off a piece and add a piece cheese with wine and grapes. instantly transports me to Paris.

It's no secret one of the most popular quick meals in Paris is the famed croque monsieur. There are many version of the 100-year old recipe.

A croque monsieur served with a fried egg or poached egg on top is known as a croque-madame (or croque cheval). A version of this sandwich in Spain replaces the ham with sobrassada, a soft sausage from the Balearic Islands that can be easily spread.

Here are a few other variations:

* croque provençal (with tomato)
* croque auvergnat (with bleu d'Auvergne cheese)
* croque gagnet (with gouda cheese and andouille sausage)
* croque norvégien (with smoked salmon instead of ham)
* croque tartiflette (with sliced potatoes and Reblochon cheese)
* croque bolognese (with Bolognese sauce)
* croque señor (with tomato salsa)
* Croque McDo sandwich at McDonald's locations in France

As you can see, the variations are the sandwich are many and endless. While in Paris, we ate one nearly every other day and the results were always sublime.

So why don't I make this more and why shouldn't you?

Because most of the recipes are chocked full of fat and calories AND I always refused to make this without the benefit of Parisian bread. But the other day I realized such thinking is very dull.

Why not make croque monsieur at home?



My goal was to make one with half as much fat and calories as most of the original recipes using (mostly) ingredients you can get at the supermarket and making it on the cheap.

I read a number of recipes but the smartest one (shock, shock) was from Cooks Country for a 30 minute recipe. Despite the fact they are super anal retentive and have the unique New England ability to take the fun out of cooking, they are OCD in the kitchen and most of the time their audacious claim of only publishing 'recipes that work' is pretty spot on.

But like most of their recipes (and others) the end result was simply too rich and gooey for most people's taste.

Here is my slimmed down and very tasty version. Talk about a perfect meal on a chilly Autumn day...


Let's cook!!

This meal serves four. The sandwiches are so rich, simply cut them in half and serve them with a nice side salad of homemade croutons, freshly shaved Gruyère cheese and a light sprinkling of pure, fresh balsamic vinegar. We eat too much in America, so eating a full sandwich is (say it with me) over eating!

Start to finish is 25 minutes.

What you'll need:
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk
  • Pepper and salt
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese, or Swiss cheese, commonly listed as Emmental cheese*
  • 4 slices of Country Wheat bread (Arnold makes a great one), or any other tender wheat bread
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, no you can't use yellow mustard you silly American
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced sliced Ham*
*Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT be a schmuck and substitute any other cheese. To do so would be to insult to the entire French culture and every single meal ever created on this planet. And I will hunt you down if you make any substitutions. Hunt. You. Down.

**Use a cheap ham, you'll have a cheap tasting sandwich. If this sandwich is all about the cheese and the ham, then it makes sense you need to be very picky about both, right? Right. I used Niman Ranch's Jambon Royale ham for this. An extremely tender and mouth-watering ham which was the perfect blend of spices and salt and flavor. Here is their website: Try to find them. Amazing.

Let's cook!In a medium sauce pan, heat your little pat of butter over medium heat until it's melted and bubbling lightly. Whisk in the flour. Cook for a minute. It will be very gloopy. This is good, this is what you want. Cook for no more than a minute.

SLOWLY pour in your milk, just a bit at a time, stirring like a mad fiend. The gloop of butter and flour will soak it up like a sponge for the first bit, but as you pour it in it will turn more into a creamy sauce.

Cook the sauce for a scant 3 minutes until it's a bit thick, then take off the flame and add 1/4 cup shredded cheese, and salt and loads of pepper to taste. Put aside and cover.

Heat up your broiler. Make sure the rack is 4 inches from the flame.

Place two slices of bread on the counter. Spread your Dijon mustard evenly on the bread, then top with ham, followed by 3 tablespoons of the flour/butter/cheese mixture on EACH sandwich, followed by 1/2 cup of the cheese over both sandwiches. Top with the remaining bread.

Heat up a 12-inch non-stick oven-proof skillet over a medium flame. Spray with butter flavored Pam (hey, we gotta cut the calories somewhere). When it is hot (about 1 minute), place each sandwich gently in the skillet, making sure they are not touching so they brown properly.

After a minute or two, check to make sure they are not browning too much.

Remove the skillet from the stove and spray the tops of the sandwich (away from the flame!) with the Pam butter spray and then flip them and cook 2 more minutes.

Turn the flame off. Now, gently spread the flour/butter/cheese mixture over the TOPS of the sandwiches, and gently layer the rest of the shredded cheese over the sandwich and put in the broiler (skillet and all) for 2 minutes, checking constantly.

If you prefer, you can remove the sandwiches and put on a foil-lined broiler pan - I use the skillet to cut down on dishes.

USING AN OVEN MIT (the handle is hot, hot, hot) remove the skillet from the broiler when the to is slightly brown. You don't want to overly crisp the sandwich.

Set aside to cool. Cut each sandwich in halves and serve each half as on portion. ONE PORTION, AMERICA.

Serve with a nice large, side salad of torn baguette and freshly ground pepper and cheese.

Bonne et longue vie fructueuse... aimez vous pour qui vous etes vraiment et mangez beaucoup de pain !

bon appetit mes cheris!

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