Everyday Gourmet3/12/09

March 12, 2009

By Kim Dannies

The crunch mister

Croque Monsieur (the crunch mister) is just the ticket to get us through the last gray days of winter. There is simply nothing more delicious and comforting than a golden, gooey, chewy, crunchy mass of warm ham and cheese to fill our bellies.

The béchamel sauce is what makes this treat so special, and every cook should know how to make one. It’s a simple sauce of butter and flour thickened with milk and seasoned with a bit of nutmeg. (Personally, I am sick and tired of restaurant menus masquerading soggy ham sandwiches as authentic Croque Monsieur — it’s not that difficult to do brilliantly.)

To make béchamel sauce, grate 10 ounces of Gruyère or Emmentaler cheese. Measure out 1/2 cup of cheese for the sauce; reserve remaining cheese for later assembly. Warm 2 cups of low-fat milk in the microwave on 100 percent heat for 2 minutes. Over low stovetop heat, melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of white flour until blended but not colored. Slowly whisk in the warm milk and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Season to taste with black pepper, salt and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. (Can be prepared 24 hours ahead and stored in fridge; gently re-warm before use.)

Although it won’t make anyone’s nutritional frequent flier list, the Croque is definitely a crowd pleaser; it also makes a great hors d’oeuvre cut into 9 cubes and served with drinks. Wondering where Croque Madame is? Simply add a fried egg on top.

To assemble 4 sandwiches, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and brush the paper with melted butter. Place 8 slices of bakery sourdough or white sandwich bread on the sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and toast for another 2 minutes.

Lightly brush 4 of the toast slices with Dijon mustard; spackle each one evenly with béchamel sauce ensuring crusts are covered. Divide 8 ounces of sliced ham among the four slices. Top each with 1/3 cup shredded cheese. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Spackle more béchamel sauce generously all over, especially the sides so the ends of the bread seal properly (there will be some leftover sauce.) Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each and bake for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler; broil for 4 minutes. The “crunch misters” will be a deep golden brown, with crunchy bottoms and crispy edges, and a perfectly melded center.

Bon appétit!

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.