A Vegetarian Croque Madame/ Croque Monsieur Provençal (French Toasted Tomato & Cheese Sandwich With/ Without Egg)
This is my first post for 2015 and I’m starting the year out here with the French Croque sandwich which is a little more than usual sandwich. According to the Larousse Gastronomique, the Croque Monsieur is a "hot sandwich, made of 2 slices of buttered bread with the crusts removed, filled with thin slices of Gruyère cheese and a slice of lean ham”
It apparently was first seen in 1910 on the menu of a café on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. “Croque” means crunchy and refers to the crispness of the bread that comes from grilling, toasting or pan frying the bread in butter.
While this classic French bistro sandwich is essentially a grilled or toasted ham (or tomato in this case) and cheese sandwich, I discovered it is a little “something” more than an ordinary sandwich. I decided to make a Croque Madame and added a fried egg, though I will say that the absence of an egg doesn’t really matter very much and that a Croque Monsieur is just as good.
A Croque Monsieur with a fried on top becomes a Croque Madame, because the egg supposedly looks like a ladies’ hat! If you add tomatoes to the mix, your French sandwich is now a Croque Provençal. There are many variations depending on what you put in your Croque sandwich and they all have different names.
There is a story, which is probably just that, that attributes the creation of the Croque Monsieur to accident. It seems that way back, some workmen left their ham and cheese sandwiches near a radiator through the morning. When they broke for lunch, they discovered that the bread was crisp and the cheese was all melty and thoroughly enjoyed the result and the sandwich was born. Maybe that’s where the “Monsieur” part of the name came from!
People in the know hold that the bread used for this sandwich should be neither chewy nor crusty so English sandwich bread should work well here. I personally like the idea of slightly thick day old crusty country bread for sandwiches so that’s what I baked and used for my Croque Provençal.
The cheese must be slightly elastic and melt easily, and typically Gruyère or Emmenthal is used here. I get Kodai Dairy cheeses here which I like and I used their Gruyère. If you can’t find Gruyère or Emmenthal, you could try probably Mozzarella though it wouldn’t be quite the same.
Some people contend that what sets the French version of this toasted/ grilled cheese sandwich apart from any other is that it is served covered with bubbling and golden Mornay sauce. A Mornay sauce is a Béchamel sauce with cheese, usually consisting of half Gruyère and half Parmesan cheese. However, Croque Messieurs or Mesdames are not always accompanied by Mornay sauce.
I am not really a fan of Béchamel sauce, but I believe that certain cheeses in small amounts can be an improvement in some foods, and I also wanted to see how Mornay sauce makes a difference to this sandwich.
I’m now of the opinion that a little of the sauce will go a long way on the Croque sandwich, and add a certain creaminess to the crunch, but too much of it would probably not be a good thing.
Please note the recipe below is for two Croque Madame Provençal sandwiches. Please feel free to increase the amount of mustard if you like it that way, or even the cheese though I personally prefer less of both. The Croque Monsieur/ Madame can also be served as an open faced sandwich.
Trivia : The Croque Monsieur also has some claim to fame at the movies as the sandwich that Meryl Streep serves Steve Martin in “It’s Complicated”
A Vegetarian Croque Madame Provençal.
For the Mornay (cheese) sauce:
For the Croque sandwiches:
- Make the Mornay sauce first. Melt the 1 tbsp of butter in a small pan. Add the flour and stir well with a whisk so that the you have a smooth paste. Take the [pan off the heat and add the milk. Keep whisking till smooth. Add the pepper and nutmeg and mix.
- Put the pan back on the stove over medium heat, and let it cook while stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of a thick tomato sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a little milk and whisk. Take it off the heat and add the grated cheese. Whisk well till the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth. Check for salt and adjust to taste.
- Now assemble the Croque sandwich. Put the 1 tbsp of butter in a griddle and let it melt. Place the 4 bread slices in it, and let the bread crisp up till golden brown and crunchy. Remove and let it cool slightly.
- Spread the other 1 tbsp of butter over the untoasted side of 2 slices of bread, and the mustard on the other untoasted sides of the other 2 slices of bread.
- Place3 or 4 tomato slices on the buttered bread slices and season with salt and pepper. (Remember that the Gruyère is salty) Top this with the grated cheese.
- Place the open sandwiches under the grill till the cheese had just melted (on medium-high). Cover them with the mustarded slices of bread. Pour a little of the Mornay sauce over the sandwich and put them back under the grill on medium to high till the sauce is golden brown and bubbling.
- Serve immediately while still hot. This is the Croque MonsieurProvençal . For the Croque Madame Provençal, place a fried egg on top of the Mornay sauce covered sandwich and garnish with chives, if using.
Mornay sauce recipe adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen: 120 Simple but Classic French Recipes by Rachel Khoo.