Croque Monsieur is a hot ham and cheese sandwich, done the French way! Béchamel sauce, ham, cheese and a smear of Dijon mustard, grilled until it’s oozing, this sandwich is the king of grilled cheeses!
Look away if you’re dieting: this recipe calls for not one, not two, but THREE different types of cheese. If we’re going to make this, let’s go all the way and do it right! To all the French readers out there – let me know how I did?? 😊
If there is one thing I think you can count on with the French when it comes to cooking, it’s their knack for taking things up a notch in the grand pursuit of edible bliss. Usually – and quite rightly! – this involves the addition of (more) butter, (more) cream, (more) cheese or simply (more) flavour!
Take the humble grilled ham and cheese sandwich. While the rest of the world will slap a piece of ham and cheese between two bits of floppy bread and call it lunch, the French are dining on THIS:
Need further convincing? I submit the following!
Paris Mash – The world’s most ridiculously decadent mashed potato;
Potato Dauphinoise – A simple potato bake, but hit with lashings of cream and cheese!;
Beef Bourguignon – Arguably the king of all stews, packed with flavours of red wine, bacon and rich, lip-smacking beef stock!
French Onion Soup – Who else but the French would insist on standing around stirring onions at the stove for an hour to extract maximum possible flavour?
OK, so I share those thoughts in jest! The true origins of Croque Monsieur actually remain largely unknown. Tales range from French workers who left their lunch boxes too close to a hot radiator, to a Parisian bistro owner who had to improvise when he ran out of baguettes (hard to imagine in France!)
Whether borne of an accident or the mind of an ingenious French chef, we can all agree a world with Croque Monsieur in it is a happier place (though my butt may not agree!)
What you need for Croque Monsieur
Here’s what you need to make Croque Monsieur. Yes, it’s more than just bread, ham and cheese – see my opening statements! 😂
1. Bechamel Sauce
For our béchamel sauce, we need:
Cream and milk – You could substitute the cream with more milk if you want, but it will reduce the richness of the béchamel! Richness = goodness … 😂;
Butter and flour – The basis for our roux, which thickens our béchamel sauce; and
Nutmeg and pepper – A touch of spicing for our béchamel. A dash of nutmeg complements a béchamel beautifully.
2. Croque Monsieur sandwich
And here’s what we need for the rest of our Croque Monsieur:
Ham – Preferably smoked (who doesn’t love smoked ham?), but any ham is good here.
Gruyere and Swiss cheese – The main cheeses! Gruyere is an Alpine cheese from Switzerland. It has a pleasantly sweet and nutty flavour, and melts well, making it an ideal choice for a Croque Monsieur.
“Swiss cheese” is a generic name for mass-produced cheese made in the style of Alpine cheeses, specifically milder emmental cheese. We use it here as it conveniently comes in sliced form for sandwiches, and it’s also cheaper than the real stuff.
Feel free to use just Swiss cheese, or just gruyere (or other Alpine cheeses, eg. comté , emmental) – or a mix! It’s all up to your budget, what you have and what you like. Gruyere, Comté and Emmental are on the pricier end here in Australia whereas cheeses sold as “Swiss cheese” are better value and have excellent flavour;
Parmesan – Alpine cheeses are relatively mild, so parmesan boosts the savoury oomph and saltiness to just where we want it, as well as giving the top of the Croque Monsieur a gorgeous crusty golden crown;
Dijon mustard – Superb in any ham and cheese sandwich, and no exception here! It brings some welcome tang and another flavour layer to the sandwich; and
Butter – For pan-searing our Croque Monsieur in buttery goodness before it’s finished in the oven!
How to make Croque Monsieur
There are a few more steps involved than slapping a piece of ham and cheese between two pieces of bread. But believe me, it’s worth it. This is no mere snack we’re crafting here, this is an event. That moment when you pull this oozing, molten beauty out of the oven, and take that first bite … it’s truly one of the most heavenly eating experiences one can have on this fragile earth!
1. Béchamel sauce
A thick, spreadable Béchamel is used in place of butter to slather on each piece of bread, as well as slathering the top piece of bread. While it is made in the same way as the cheese sauce for things like Mac and Cheese, we make it much thicker so it can be spread like butter.
The simplest Croque Monsieurs actually forego any Béchamel sauce. For me though it’s an essential feature that absolutely makes the Croque Monsieur!
Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan, just until hot. This makes it incorporate much easier and more smoothly into the flour/butter mixture which is especially key in this Béchamel Sauce because it’s so thick;
Roux – Make the roux by melting butter, then adding the flour and cooking it on a low heat for 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour. Don’t let the mixture become golden. We want the Béchamel Sauce to be white;
Add hot milk – Pour in half the hot milk mixture while stirring constantly (trick to make the Béchamel lump free). Once the milk is incorporated into the roux, then add the remaining milk mixture and mix until combined; and
Thicken – Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is so thick that you can spread it like peanut butter on bread. This will only take a minute or so because the ratio of flour to milk in this Béchamel is higher than normal so it’s spreadable rather than pourable.
Once done, take it off the stove and set aside until required. It’s fine if the Béchamel Sauce cools down. It will become thicker but still be spreadable, and it will heat up when we pan fry and bake the Croque Monsieur.
And here is how to assemble the Croque Monsieur:
Slather a slice of untoasted white bread with Béchamel Sauce;
Place two pieces of cheese on top, folding as needed to make them fit. Then spread the cheese with Dijon mustard. I know this seems unusual to spread the mustard on the cheese but there’s a good reason: if you spread it on the bread, it mixes in with the Béchamel Sauce and you can’t taste it! Neat, huh? 🙂;
Layer on ham and then spread the ham with more Dijon mustard;
Top with another layer of cheese (yes, you heard me!);
Spread Béchamel on another piece of bread; and
Close the sandwich.
We’re on the home stretch! I did forewarn you that there were a few more steps involved than a regular grilled cheese or ham sandwich for your lunchbox … and it’s worth it!
Pan fry sandwich in a skillet using melted butter (naturally – did you expect anything else??);
Place seared sandwich on a tray and slather the top with the remaining Béchamel Sauce;
Sprinkle with gruyere cheese, then parmesan;
Bake for 15 minutes, and finally switch oven to the grill/broiler setting for 3 minutes to get some lovely bronzing on the top.
Now transfer your divine cheesy creation to a plate, and dive into it immediately while it’s hot and oozy. Weep with joy!
When and how to serve Croque Monsieur
Traditionally Croque Monsieurs are served at bistros and are the type of thing you find as a casual lunchtime offering in France, maybe with a side salad and fries (because, you know, there’s not enough calories in the Croque Monsieur as it is!😂).
Outside of France, it’s more common to see it on breakfast and brunch menus.
And just when you thought it wasn’t possible to gild a lily any more, let me also mention the Croque Madame. This is a popular variation in France that serves no less than a sunny-side-up fried egg on top of an already-obscenely-decadent Croque Monsieur!
Now that sounds like a perfect way to start a day! 😉 – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
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Croque Monsieur (French hot ham and cheese sandwich)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup cream (pure or heavy / thickened)
- 1 1/2 tbsp / 25g unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 tbsp flour , plain / all-purpose
- 1/4 tsp salt , kosher/cooking salt
- 1 pinch white pepper
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg , preferably freshly ground
- 4 slices sourdough bread , 1.5cm / ⅗" thick (Note 1)
- 8 slices Swiss or gruyere cheese (165g / 6 oz, enough for 2 layers a sandwich) (Note 2)
- 120g / 4 oz ham slices , preferably smoked
- 4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 30g / 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup gruyere cheese , shredded (packed cup, Note 2)
- 3 tbsp parmesan , finely shredded (Note 2)
- Preheat oven to 200°C/390°F (180°C fan).
- Heat milk and cream: Place milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until steaming, but don't let it boil. Set aside.
- Make roux: Melt butter in a separate small saucepan over medium heat, then turn the heat down to low. Add flour and cook, stirring almost constantly, for 3 minutes. Don't let it brown.
- Add hot milk: While stirring, add half the milk. Once incorporated into the roux, mix in remaining milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Thicken: Mix for 30 seconds to a minute or until it thickens into a spreadable and soft butter-like consistency (ie. not runny). If you have lumps, whisk until gone. Remove from heat (it is OK if it cools).
Assemble for pan frying:
- Spread with Bechamel: Spread half the béchamel over the 4 slices of bread, as though you are buttering them to make normal sandwiches! (Reserve half the béchamel for topping)
- Cheese + Dijon: Top two pieces of bread with 2 slices of gruyere or Swiss cheese each (fold as needed to make them fit). Then spread the cheese with half the Dijon Mustard (this might sound weird, but see in post for why we do this!).
- Ham + Dijon: Top with ham, then spread ham with remaining Dijon mustard.
- Top each of the two slices with 2 more slices of cheese (again, folding as needed), then close sandwiches with the other slices.
- Melt butter in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Place sandwiches in the skillet, and cook for 2 minutes, pressing down lightly with an egg flip or spatula, until a deep golden brown.
- Turn and cook the other side until golden brown. Transfer to a baking tray.
Bake then broil:
- Topping: Slather remaining béchamel thickly on the upper pieces of bread. Sprinkle with Gruyere, then parmesan.
- Bake and broil: Bake 15 minutes, then switch to the grill/broiler for 3 minutes and grill until the top is golden and bubbling.
- Immediately transfer to warmed serving plates, with knives and fork for serving (it's too messy to eat with hands.) For a traditional French bistro experience, add a side of fries and leafy greens lightly dressed in French Dressing or a basic vinaigrette. Devour and weep with joy! (Over the sandwich that is, not the salad!)
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