The only thing better than a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich is a French grilled cheese sandwich, also known as a croque monsieur. This French sandwich is a staple at bistros and cafes, and for good reason!
The name of the sandwich, croque monsieur, loosely translates to mister crunch. This is most likely a play off the crisp nature of the sandwich as its baked or fried to a crisp.
Like most French foods, a croque monsieur is all about inducing feelings of pleasure, regardless of how easily and quickly it can be put together.
Why would you simply fry a cheddar cheese sandwich like Americans do when you can add delicious ham, dijon, bechamel, and fancy gruyere? The French are always looking to indulge and completely delight in their meals, even when its a relatively simple and convenient meal.
I love making croque monsieur sandwiches as a substitute for dinner when I’m looking for something warm and easy, but comforting too.
They are also fantastic picnic sandwiches, believe it or not.
I usually wrap the croque monsieur in some parchment paper when it’s warm out of the oven, and then wrap that in foil and pack in my picnic basket. It loses some of that crisp factor, but it’s still warm and gooey when I unwrap it.
The basic components of a croque monsieur are, as mentioned: ham, dijon mustard, cheese, bechamel sauce and, like any French recipe commands, good bread.
If you were to add a fried egg on top, then it would become a croque madame, which is also splendidly delicious.
I bake my croque monsieur rather than fry it, as I just find it easier and slightly healthier. Not that we’re looking to be healthy here with this recipe, per se, but still, if it doesn’t make a big difference in taste, why not try to be good where we can be.
You can of course use any good, melt-y cheese that you have on hand, but a quality gruyere is the surefire way to go. It’s got tons of flavor and will just make your croque monsieur over-the-top scrumptious.
An irresistible French ham and grilled cheese sandwich recipe.
- 8 slices of sourdough toast (see note)
- 8 oz. gruyere cheese
- 8 slices of black forest ham (see note)
- 1 recipe bechamel sauce (see below)
- dijon mustard
- 1 cup whole milk (245 grams)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter (14 grams)
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (15 grams)
Create the bechamel sauce
Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steam rises from the milk, but it has yet to boil. Don't let the milk boil.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan. One melted, add the flour and stir to create a bubbly, paste-like mixture. Stream in the hot milk, whisking as you do. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, taste-test, and add more if needed.
Stir the bechamel sauce over low heat until it's thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Create the sandwich
Turn on the oven's broil setting. Toast your bread slices in the toaster. Spread dijon mustard over half of the bread slices.
Top half of the bread slices with 2 slices of ham each. Then top the ham with some shredded cheese.
Place the remaining bread slices on top of the ham and cheese to assemble the sandwiches. Spread about 1 -2 tbsp bechamel sauce over the top of each sandwich. Add some more shredded cheese on top of the bechamel.
Set the sandwiches on a baking sheet on the middle rack of your oven until the cheese is beginning to melt and bubble. Move the sandwiches to the top rack for about 30 seconds, keeping your eye on it and removing when the cheese starts to obtain little golden spots.
You can use any kind of white bread that you like. The French traditionally use a brioche-type of bread. Sourdough tends to work really well for this recipe.
Try to get medium to thick slices of ham rather than the thin deli kind. If you do get the paper thin deli kind, then use 3 to 4 slices rather than the recommended 2 per sandwich.
To elevate the flavor of your bechamel, a great chef trick is to infuse the milk with a small wedge of onion, a pinch of ground cloves, and a bay leaf. Strain the hot milk before combining the milk with the roux (the butter and flour mixture).