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[personal profile] cafela
As you have probably picked up by now, I love French food. There's not a French restaurant in the town where I live, but there are several in the relatively nearby city of Atlanta. Mine and my husband's favorite is Ani's Bistro, which favors Provençal cuisine, but has a dash of everything else, too. I always get the Moules Marinières (mussels in white wine sauce) and he always gets their Croque Monsieur. I always steal a bite of his, because it's so good. But we can't always go to Atlanta, and so I decided I should figure out how to make a Croque Monsieur. After all, it's just a fancy ham and cheese sandwich, right?

Well, yes and no. This is what I came up with. The first time I tried it, it was good, but not quite to the level I wanted. I used deli ham--good, fresh, thick deli ham, but it wasn't right. Jambon de Paris aka Parisian ham is famous, and it's just about the only ham I'll eat. So I pondered on why it was so good, and why I don't like normal American sandwich ham. It was then that I remembered--I do enjoy ham at Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. But it's not deli ham, it's HoneyBaked Ham. Theirs is on par with Parisian ham. Fortunately, we do have a HoneyBaked Ham Cafe in town, so the next time I went to make this sandwich, I stopped and got a half pound of Honey Baked Ham slices. It makes all the difference.

To be sure, you can make a decent croque monsieur with a good sweet/honey ham from your local deli. But if you want it to be over the top good, get some from a Honey Baked Ham store.

Also, realize up front that this is a very rich, heavy dish. You'll want something to cut through all that cheesy goodness. I recommend a good medium-bodied red wine and a salad to round out your meal. And if you find yourself unable to finish your sandwiches, they reheat just fine.




Croque Monsieur

Ingredients:
1/2 to 3/4 lb sliced ham (thick slices!)
2 tb butter
3 tb flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (If you don't have it, use 1/2 tsp regular salt)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
1 cup grated Fontina or Emmental cheese (about 3 oz)
6-8 largish buns/croissants, or very thick (1 inch) sandwich bread

Grate all your cheeses first, and set aside. Mix all of them together in a bowl, except for 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, which you should keep separate.

In a small to medium saucepan (nonstick if you have it) melt the butter over medium heat. Once it melts, add the flour and stir (I use a whisk). Stir for about 2 minutes; if you've ever made a roux before, that's basically what you're doing here, b/c it's the first step of bechamel sauce....which is exactly what we're making. Once the two minutes are up, add your hot milk slowly. I add about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking it in as I go. It may get thin, but at some point, it will thicken to a gravy-like consistency. At this point, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take off the heat and whisk in the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 cup of Gruyere that you set aside. Ta-dah! You just made a Bechamel sauce. This is the hardest part of making a Croque Monsieur; the rest is just layering.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.

Cut your rolls/buns/croissants in half (the way you would for a sandwich). Lay the bottoms out on a cookie sheet. Spread a small spoonful of the bechamel sauce you just made onto the top of each of the bottoms (hope that makes sense). Layer your ham slices onto each (use all your ham). Put another dollop of the bechamel sauce on top of the ham, along with a generous amount of the shredded cheeses. You should use half or slightly more than half of the shredded cheese for this step.

Now put the tops on top of the shredded cheese layer. Spread bechamel on the top. Put more shredded cheese on top. The bechamel sauce should be helping the cheese stick to the bread.

Put into the hot oven, and bake for about 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes the cheese doesn't have the nice browning that you want, turn the broiler on for about 2 minutes, and keep a close eye on it, b/c it's incredibly easy to burn things with the broiler on. Serve immediately. You'll probably need a knife and a fork. Bon appetit!

Protip: If you have leftover bechamel sauce or leftover grated cheese, save them for the next time you make a pasta dish, and throw them into the sauce. Or make cheesy toast with them.

If you find Gruyere to be too strong a flavor for you, you can always increase the amount of Fontina/Emmental and reduce the amount of Gruyere.

April 2014

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