I discovered croque monsieur on a rainy February day while I was a sophomore in college. I came into the city early on a Saturday morning to cover an event for a class and afterwards, met up for brunch with one of my high school friends that lived in the West Village. He took me to the most adorable and elegant brunch spot, Cafe Cluny, where we sipped bellinis and ordered croque monsieurs and cappuccinos. I’ve never been to France, but I imagined life there was as fabulous as I felt in that moment.
Since then, I like ordering croque monsieur at brunch, but it is never quite right. It’s sometimes too greasy, cheesy, or lacking flavor. While flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, Barefoot in Paris, I stopped at the Croque Monsieur page, wrote down what ingredients I was missing, and headed immediately to the grocery store. If anyone can execute the perfect croque monsier, it’s Ina. Her recipes are always flawlessly written, and if followed closely, turn out perfectly without exception. This was no different.
The bechamel is what makes this sandwich different from a grilled cheese with ham. It took several minutes of whisking and a few breaks because my right arm was getting tired, but it was worth it. As I assembled the sandwiches, I was nervous that the bechamel would make a mess of everything, but the sandwiches came out beautifully, as all Ina recipes do.
makes 8 sandwiches
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons AP flour
- 2 cups hot milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch nutmeg
- 12 ounces Gruyere, grated
- 1/2 cup Parmesan
- 16 slices white sandwich bread (I made some sandwiches with Whole Wheat because I prefer it, some with white bread to appease my picky sister)
- Dijon Mustard
- 1 lb Virginia ham (you should have some remaining)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the 2 cups of milk in a saucepan. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir together for 2 minutes. The flour and butter mixture will darken in color, this is OK. Slowly pour the hot milk over the flour and butter mixture and whisk continuously for several minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated gruyere, and 1/2 cup parmesan.
Places slices of bread on two cookie sheets and toast for 3-5 minutes on each side. Depending on the type of bread you use, this may vary, so just keep an eye on the oven. Lightly brush half of the slices with the dijon mustard, add 2-3 slices of ham to each, and sprinkle with gruyere. Top with another slice of toasted bread. Slather the tops of the sandwiches with the bechamel sauce, sprinkle with more gruyere, and bake for 5 minutes. Then broil for 3-5 minutes, but again, keep a close eye on the broiler. Serve immediately and imagine you are in Paris!