This weekend I had a real craving for a Croque-monsieur, and I wanted to make one “right” (”right” being entirely relative; here’s a previous post in which I was unhappy with a restaurant’s Croque-madame). Which meant, this time, combining a few recipes. What I wanted was a Croque-monsieur that would also have a Béchamel on top of it.
Another reason I’ve been thinking about wonderful grilled sandwiches, is that Kathy and I visited with a friend of ours, Cynthia (Librarian Extraordinaire; Masters in Library Sciences), and she mentioned that this coming Saturday (Feb. 21st, 2009) there is a Grilled Cheese Invitational Competition in San Francisco. No, not going to enter or anything like that; I can cook, but I’m no chef… Talking about it made me crave a Croque-monsieur like nobody’s business, however.
If you’ve got about forty-five minutes to an hour, and the right ingredients, I strongly advise making one for yourself. The recipe and my notes follow. Primarily, I desired a Croque-monsieur with a Béchamel sauce on the top, but to make it extra cheesy, I made a Mornay sauce, which is basically a Béchamel with cheese added. Don’t be afraid of this recipe; it’s fairly easy, but takes a little time due to clarifying butter and making the Béchamel… I did as many simultaneous steps as possible, I’ll try to point them out.
As always, using the best quality cheese, to your taste, is going to be your best bet. I had on hand some Roth’s Private Reserve that I picked up at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. Since I’m about to launch into the recipes, I’ll let Janet Fletcher speak of Roth’s Private Reserve in her article here. In short though, I’ll say that it is not unlike an excellent domestic Gruyère.
First Step; make clarified butter and Béchamel.
Clarified Butter (copied from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker): Butterfat that has been separated from its water and milk and keeps about three times longer, does not burn in sautéing, and has a pure clean flavor. Cut unsalted butter into small pieces and melt over low heat without stirring and without letting butter to sizzle, and then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain mixture well and let the clear yellow liquid cool before covering. When chilled, clarified butter becomes grainy. It should be used as a spread but only in cooking.
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- ¼ onion with 1 bay leaf stuck to it using 2 whole cloves
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Simmer gently for 15 minutes, uncovered, to infuse flavor into milk. Discard the onion, bay leaf, and cloves. Meanwhile, melt in a heavy saucepan over low heat:
- 2 tablespoons butter.
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula, over medium-low heat until the roux is just fragrant but not darkened, 2 to 3 minutes, remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Slowly whisk in the warm milk, and return the saucepan to the heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking to prevent lumps, and cook, stirring often and skimming any skin that forms on the surface, over low heat, without boiling, until it reaches the consistency of thick cream soup, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Season with:
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.
Sauce Mornay (Cheese Sauce)
Prepare Sauce Béchamel above, adding ¼ cup firmly packed fine grated cheese – 2 tablespoons Gruyere and 2 tablespoons Parmesan is traditional, but any aged cheese is very good, alone or in combination. Try Swiss, Cheddar, or blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Rouguefort and Stilton. Cook, stirring, just until the cheese is melted – the cheese can turn stringy. Season with salt, and, in place of pepper, a pinch of red pepper and a few grains of mace or nutmeg.
Note from Bryce: Just as the recipe above suggests, you can really try a variety of cheese for the Morney, so use what works best for you. I did the suggested “traditional” but added quite a bit of freshly ground nutmeg since Kathy likes it so much.
AS the butter was clarifying and the milk was simmering was the time that I spent constructing the sandwiches by Julia Child’s instructions below.
Julia’s Croque Monsieur
This recipe below is directly from:
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin
[Child, Julia and Pepin, Jacques. 1988 Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York.]
Yield: 1 Sandwich
–2 slices fresh, reasonably soft home-style white bread, removed from the loaf in sequence for accurate reassembly
–1Tablespoon mayonnaise, preferably homemade
–½ teaspoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
–2 or more slices Swiss Cheese (Gruyère or Emmentaler, 3/16 inch thick and large enough to cover each bread slice.
–1 slice excellent baked or boiled ham, 3/ 16 inch thick, trimmed of fat, and same size as cheese
–2 Tablespoons clarified butter
A Frying pan that will hold one sandwich comfortably (probably about 8 inches), or a 12 inch pan for more sandwiches; a pancake turned; a baking sheet, if you are doing several sandwiches.
Forming the Sandwich
Lay the bread in front of you and open it up like a book so that when you close the sandwich the right and left sides will match exactly). Spread an even coating of mayonnaise – about a teaspoon – on top of each slice then a smidge of mustard. Lay a slice of cheese on the right slice, followed by a slice of ham, then a slice of cheese. Turn the left slice of bread over on top of the right, press firmly down on the sandwich with the palm of your hand. Rotate and press several times to hold the sandwich together (that’s why you want the bread to be fresh and fairly soft). With a big sharp knife, trim off the crusts all around to form a neat sandwich. (If not to be cooked at once, wrap airtight in plastic – useful when you are doing several).
Preheat the oven to 300°F for final baking
Film the frying pan with a tablespoon of clarified butter and set over moderately high heat. When very hot but not browning, lower heat to moderate and lay the sandwich in the pan, pressing down several times as the sandwich browns rather slowly on the bottom – 2 minutes or so. Add another tablespoon of clarified butter to the pan, then turn and brown on the other side, pressing down upon the sandwich several times until its bottom, too, is lightly browned. (You may sauté 10 to 15 minutes in advance, and finish later.)
For a single sandwich set the frying pan (oven-proof frying pan) in the middle level of the preheated 300°F oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted. If doing several sandwiches, lift them onto the baking sheet to finish in the oven…
Next Step: Set the oven on broil as soon as you remove the baking sandwich(es). On top of each, spread an even layer of your Mornay sauce, and slide under the broiler until either the sauce is reheated, or it starts to brown slightly.
Remove from broiler, slice in half and serve with a fresh green salad (meant to fool your body into thinking this is somehow a balanced or healthy meal).
DO YOU have an favorite Croque recipes, or grilled cheese? Let everyone know by commenting in the comment section. Thanks!
Yes, I’ve been remiss [new work, an hour's commute each way, plus work helping coordinate California's Artisan Cheese Festival (March 20th - 23rd, 2009 in Petaluma)], but I’ve still been eating, enjoying and exploring cheese like mad…
Yeah, yeah Bryce; excuses. Where’s the cheese?
Yes, you’re right, “Inner Cheese Voice”; let’s just talk about some cheese.
Sap Sago (also known as Schabziger) is a hard herb cheese, which I think I may have spoken about in length on this previous post. While at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco several weeks ago, I was pleased to find an entire booth dedicated to this underutilized Swiss cheese. Due to its hard nature, this is NOT a snacking cheese, and yet, I always have some in my fridge. If you enjoy savory breakfasts as I do, or even if you want a snack, Sap Sago’s the stuff! Besides using it in Fondue, as Kathy and I often do, it is great to just grate into butter for bread. Remember though; a little goes a long way (less is more).
I spoke at length with the man running the Sap Sago booth at the Fancy Food Show, Yves, about where I typically buy Sap Sago in the Bay Area. It’s not always the easiest cheese to find, as there is little to no demand for it by most Americans. The Cheese Board in Berkeley carries it, as well as Country Cheese on San Pablo in Berkeley. We also spoke about how I found that the cost went up astronomically over the past five years or so; I used to get it for about $1.69 a cone, and now it’s closer to $5. We’re fortunate to have it at all, so I’m not complaining! …since I had the opportunity to talk to someone about Sap Sago, someone knowledgeable, I learned something fairly interesting. I had been under the assumption that there were perhaps anywhere from 2 to 10 additional brands of Sap Sago in Switzerland that we just can’t get here. According to Yves, this assumption isn’t true. He told me that there are a great many farmers who sell milk, and/or curd to Geska (the cheese producing company), but unless these farmers merely keep some to make their own personal batches of Sap Sago, no one else is commercially making the cheese.
I’ve been sent the marketing flier as a PDF by Yves and his company, click on the picture from it below to see the whole thing. Although I encourage all of you to try Sap Sago, it is NOT a perfect Valentine’s Day gift cheese (unless he or she is into it), but I’m curious to know what cheese(s) YOU would like to get, or would give for Valentine’s day. Use the comment section below. Have a great President’s Day Weekend everyone!